What is Deepavali?

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Deepavali or Diwali means “a row of lights”. It falls on the last two days of the dark half of Kartik (October-November). For some it is a three-day festival. It commences with the Dhan-Teras, on the 13th day of the dark half of Kartik, followed the next day by the Narak Chaudas, the 14th day, and by Deepavali proper on the 15th day.

There are various alleged origins attributed to this festival. Some hold that they celebrate the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. In Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of Kali. It also commemorates that blessed day on which the triumphant Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana. On this day also Sri Krishna killed the demon Narakasura.

In South India people take an oil bath in the morning and wear new clothes. They partake of sweetmeats. They light fireworks which are regarded as the effigies of Narakasura who was killed on this day. They greet one another, asking, “Have you had your Ganges bath?” which actually refers to the oil bath that morning as it is regarded as purifying as a bath in the holy Ganges.

Everyone forgets and forgives the wrongs done by others. There is an air of freedom, festivity and friendliness everywhere. This festival brings about unity. It instils charity in the hearts of people. Everyone buys new clothes for the family. Employers, too, purchase new clothes for their employees.

Waking up during the Brahmamuhurta (at 4a.m.) is a great blessing from the standpoint of health, ethical discipline, efficiency in work and spiritual advancement. It is on Deepavali that everyone wakes up early in the morning. The sages who instituted this custom must have cherished the hope that their descendents would realise its benefits and make it a regular habit in their lives.

In a happy mood of great rejoicing village folk move about freely, mixing with one another without any reserve, all enmity being forgotten. People embrace one another with love. Deepavali is a great unifying force. Those with keen inner spiritual ears will clearly hear the voice of the sages, “O Children of God! unite, and love all”. The vibrations produced by the greetings of love which fill the atmosphere are powerful enough to bring about a change of heart in every man and woman in the world. Alas! That heart has considerably hardened, and only a continuous celebration of Deepavali in our homes can rekindle in us the urgent need of turning away from the ruinous path of hatred.

On this day Hindu merchants in North India open their new account books and pray for success and prosperity during the coming year. The homes are cleaned and decorated by day and illuminated by night with earthern oil-lamps. The best and finest illuminations are to be seen in Bombay and Amritsar. The famous Golden Temple at Amritsar is lit in the evening with thousands of lamps placed all over the steps of the big tank. Vaishnavites celebrate the Govardhan Puja and feed the poor on a large scale.

O Ram! The light of lights, the self-luminous inner light of the Self is ever shining steadily in the chamber of your heart. Sit quietly. Close your eyes. Withdraw the senses. Fix the mind on this supreme light and enjoy the real Deepavali, by attaining illumination of the soul.

He who Himself sees all but whom no one beholds, who illumines the intellect, the sun, the moon and the stars and the whole universe but whom they cannot illumine, He indeed is Brahman, He is the inner Self. Celebrate the real Deepavali by living in Brahman, and enjoy the eternal bliss of the soul.

The sun does not shine there, nor do the moon and the stars, nor do lightnings shine and much less fire. All the lights of the world cannot be compared even to a ray of the inner light of the Self. Merge yourself in this light of lights and enjoy the supreme Deepavali.

Many Deepavali festivals have come and gone. Yet the hearts of the vast majority are as dark as the night of the new moon. The house is lit with lamps, but the heart is full of the darkness of ignorance. O man! wake up from the slumber of ignorance. Realise the constant and eternal light of the Soul which neither rises nor sets, through meditation and deep enquiry.

May you all attain full inner illumination! May the supreme light of lights enlighten your understanding! May you all attain the inexhaustible spiritual wealth of the Self! May you all prosper gloriously on the material as well as spiritual planes!

Sri Swami Sivananda

This article is a chapter from the book Hindu Fasts and Festivals.

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Significance of Vijya Dashmi – Dusserah is Dasa-Papa-Hara

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Man’s real nature is Absolute Bliss and Knowledge. He tries to reach his state with the help of his mind and intellect. But the mind constantly gravitates to the sense objects for sensual pleasures and the intellect goes on seeking knowledge from the external world By such extroverted pursuits man gets involved more and more in the world of objects and accumulates desires which veil the divinity in him.

Man is thus in a helpless condition consumed by numerous desires. The ancient masters knew that he has to turn his attention inwards to gain the state of Absolute Bliss and Knowledge, which he foolishly seeks in the external World. With this view in mind, they introduced various rituals and festivals throughout the year to remind man of his supreme goal and ideal. One such festival is Dusserah.

The Dusserah festival is celebrated throughout the country for ten days. During this festival, everyone spends his time in worship, devotion, and study of the sastras, and every house assumes the sanctity of a temple The ten days are divided into three stages of three days each, for worship, and the culmination of the festival on the tenth day is called Vijaya Dasami

In the first three days Goddess Kali also called Durga, is invoked. In the next three days Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped, and the following three days are dedicated to Goddess Saraswati. On Vijaya Dasami day, a huge bonfire of the devil is made. and this marks the culmination of the festival. Such festivals are not only reminders for man to seek God, but they also contain in them the very path and technique by which man can reach Him. The great day of Dusserah indicates, as the word suggests, Dasa-Papa-Hara, or the end or liquidation of the ten sins. The ten sins are attributed to the ten sense organs through which the mind contacts and gains knowledge of the phenomenal world, and also reacts to the stimuli received from the world of objects. Therefore the idea is that on this sacred day the ten sins are coded which signifies the end of the mind and therefore the end of the world of plurality when one becomes rooted in the transcendental experience.

One can gain the experience of the Reality by following the right invocations in the required sequence. The invocation of Goddess Durga is done first, with a particular purpose. Durga is described in Puranic literature as “The Terrible Power” that vanquished and killed the demons who terrorized devoted religious seekers. Similarly, in the bosom of man there are destructive monsters of desire, passion, lust, greed, jealousy, and so on, which have to be annihilated before he can successfully seek spiritual unfoldment. Hence Mother Durga is invoked. By worshipping Her for three days man merely invokes his own power which lies dormant within, to discover and destroy the negative forces lurking in his bosom.

Destroying one’s evil tendencies is only a negative approach to spirituality. So the next stage is to practice the positive aspect of the Sadana. This is done by Shree Lakshmi Puja for the next three days. Lakshmi is the Goddess of Aiswarya. Aiswarya is not to be understood in the narrow sense of material wealth and possessions alone but as including the divine wealth of love, kindness, devotion, patience, endurance. charity, ahimsa and the like. Again, these are not to be gained from without, but are to be engendered from within by the invocation of the Goddess within ourselves. By the end of these three days, these divine qualities should replace the devilish tendencies which had usurped and enveloped our bosom.

With the development of the divine, traits, the seeker is fully qualified and becomes an Adhikari for philosophical study, contemplation and meditation. The invocation of Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge, is therefore the last and the final stage in the spiritual evolution of man. Just as she brings out the music and melody from her well tuned flute, one can manifest the divinity and harmony with a well integrated mind, by the study of the Sastras, constant reflection and meditation. After the three stages are gone through, on the last Vijaya Dasami Day the devil is burnt down indicating the transcendence of the ego, when man attains the great victory -Vijaya -over his sense-life and revels in the ecstatic experience of the Transcendental Reality.

Swami Chinmayananda

From: Symbolism in Hinduism, Chinmaya Mission Publication

Ananda is the Nature of Brahman, not an attribute!

gurudev (2)

अहमेव सुखं नान्यदन्यच्चेन्नैव तत्सुखम् |
अमदर्थ न हि प्रेयो मदर्थ न स्वतः प्रियम् ||

 Ahameva sukam nanyadanyaccnnaiva tatsukham
Amadartham na hi preyo madartham na svatah priyam

 अहं एव = I alone, सुखम् = (am) happiness, wholeness, न अन्यत् = (and) not different, अन्यत् चेत् = (if happiness is) different, तत् = that, न एव = not at all, सुखम् = (is) happiness; अमदर्थम्  = (if it is) not meant for me (then); न हि = (it is) not;  प्रेय = dear;  मदर्थम्  = (if it is) meant for me (then); न = not; स्वतः = by itself;  प्रियम् = dear

I am of the nature of happiness and not different (having happiness as my attribute). If it (happiness) is different, it is not bliss at all, for, it would not be clear if it is not meant for me, and, if it is meant for me, it is not dear by itself (whereas, the self is dear by itself). (Advaita Makranda – 24)

अहमेव सुखं Aham eva sukham, I alone am happiness, आनन्द ananda. न अन्यत् Na anyat, I am not different from this ananda. सुखं  Sukham is my nature and not an attribute or quality. It is not that आत्मा atma is asukha, unhappy by nature, and happiness is a quality it possesses from time to time.

How do you know that ananda is your nature and not your attribute? In answer to that question, we have this to say: If sukham or happiness is a quality or an attribute of atma, then it should be different from atma, because, according to the Naiyayikas, a quality or गुण gun and its locus, the गुणि  guni, are different from each other. If happiness is a guna of atma and atma is the guni, they should be different from each other.

Now, whatever is different from atma can fall under one of two categories: either it is conducive or favorable to atma, or the opposite. There is a third category of things that are neither favorable nor unfavorable, which will be referred to later on. If happiness is something different from atma and not conducive to atma, then it cannot be happiness, because whatever is not conducive cannot be dear to mm: This is what the author means when he says, अमदर्थ न हि प्रेयो amadartham na hi preyah; if it is not meant for me, not conducive to me, it cannot be dear to me.

Happiness is always dear tome, and, therefore, it cannot be something that is not conducive to me. We know that Whatever is not conducive, such as a snake etc., is not held dear. What if happiness is different from me, but also conducive to me? Then it would be dear to you and be a cause or reason for happiness; it would not be happiness itself.

The author says, मदर्थ न स्वतः प्रियम् madartham na svatah priyam; if it is conducive to me, it is dear alright, but it still is not dear for its own sake. For instance, certain objects, one’s spouse or progeny etc, are dear to us, but not for their own sakes. They are dear because they give happiness and, in such instances, it is possible that they may not remain dear if they cease to be a source of happiness.

The idea is that the love for things and beings that are clear is conditional. They are dear only as long as they continue to be favorable, useful, and conducive. But happiness is not like that. We love happiness for its own sake, meaning that the love for happiness is unconditional. We love happiness at all times, at all places, and under all conditions. Therefore, anything that is conducive, but different from us cannot be happiness. It can be a cause or reason for happiness, but not happiness itself. ‘

Whatever is not conducive to me or is a source of unhappiness cannot be happiness, and whatever is merely a cause or reason for happiness also cannot be happiness, because the cause or reason for happiness is loved conditionally, whereas happiness is loved unconditionally.

In fact, as the Pancadasi says, all the things and beings of the world can be divided into four categories: one ’s own self, those that one likes, those that one dislikes, and those to whom one is indifferent. Happiness is not disliked, like a tiger or snake may be, because everyone desires happiness. Neither is one indifferent to happiness, such as to a stone on the roadside, again because happiness is desired by everyone. We cannot call happiness as something that is simply dear, because spouse, children etc., which are sources of happiness, are also dear. Thus, by the rule of elimination, happiness is the self.

But would it not be true that the self is dear because it is a means to happiness? After all, the self does not have to be happiness itself to be dear; it can be dear even if it is a means of happiness. To this, we have to ask whether or not a means to happiness, such as an object of pleasure, is seen to serve the purpose of the self. If the self is a means to happiness, whose purpose will it serve?

It is argued that the self serves the purpose of the self; however, then, it has to be visualized as both the subject and object simultaneously, which is illogical. Therefore, we have to conclude that self is dear, not because it is a means of happiness, but because it is happiness itself.

Common experience is that happiness is born and it dies, that it arises and subsides, but you claim that the self is always there. In that case, how can happiness, which is impermanent, be the self? The answer is that what arises and subsides is the thought, which manifests as happiness. Indeed like the sun, which always shines in the sky, happiness always shines as the self, because it is the same as the consciousness that is self-shining.

However, just as clouds create the disappearance of the sun, so also, रजस rajas and तमस tamas create the disappearance of happiness. When the thought becomes सात्विक satvika, being transparent, the happiness becomes manifest. Happiness that is the self always is It is not created. It only needs to manifest and that happens when the mind becomes satvika or pure.

Thus, with the help of reasoning, on the strength of the experience of wise, as well as many statements of, the scriptures, it is made clear that happiness is not a quality or an attribute of the self, but the nature of the self.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Excerpts from Advaita Makranda of Sri Lakshmidhara Kavi

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses

What is the Nature of the Self?

gurudev (2)


अहमस्मि सदा भामि कदचिन्नाहमप्रिय:|

ब्रह्मैवाहमतः सिद्धं सच्चिदानन्दलक्षणम् ||

 Ahmasmi sada bhami kadachinnahamapriyah |
Brahhmaivahamatah siddham saachidanandalaksanam ||

सदा = always, अहम् अस्मि = I exists, भामि = I shine, अहम्= I (am), न कदाचित् = never,  अप्रियः = not dear, अतः = therefore, सिद्धम् = it is established (that), ब्रह्मन् एवं अहम् = brahman alone I am, सत् -चित् -आनन्द -लक्षणम्  = whose nature is existence-consciousness-fullness

I exist ever and always I shine; never do I dislike myself. Therefore, it is established that I am brahman, of the nature of existence-consciousness-fullness alone. (Advaita Makranda – 2)

This verse provides a simple way of looking at ourselves. For instance, if I look at myself as the body, then I had a birth and I will face death; I am mortal and I am limited. If I look at myself through the medium of the mind or intellect, I can see that in knowledge, I am limited, and in terms of my memory, I am limited. Even in terms of skills, I know that I am limited. In every way that I look at myself, I can only sense that I am limited. such is the perception I have of myself. Yet the nature of the limitations I feel depends on the standpoint through which I judge or observe myself; indeed, if I were to stop looking at myself in terms of these incidental factors, my ’costume’, and consider myself in terms of what I really am, I will become free.

What is it in each one of us that is abiding?

Everything that you might consider has two aspects, an incidental aspect that is constantly changing, and an inherent or intrinsic aspect, which is constant and abiding. Take the instance of this cloth that I am wearing: it is made of cotton, and, in this form, it is called cloth. If you were to take away all the interwoven yarn, it would not be cloth anymore; you may perhaps call it threads. The name is changed when the form is changed; if you take away all the threads from cloth, there would not be any cloth. However, even as thread, it is still cotton. You can cut these threads into small pieces and they would still be cotton. The fact that it is cotton never changes; that is never denied. Because it never ceases to be cotton fiber, cotton is the intrinsic aspect of this garment, whereas, its status as a piece of cloth or threads or shorter lengths of thread is incidental.

Remember that the actor only appears as a beggar, king or minister, each of the roles is incidental, while being an actor is intrinsic to the individual. This is how everything in this universe is a combination of the essential and the incidental. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, (Bhagavad Gita 13-26):

यावत्सञ्जायते किञ्चित्सत्त्वं स्थावरजङ्गमम्।
क्षेत्रक्षेत्रज्ञसंयोगात्तद्विद्धि भरतर्षभ।।

 yāvat sañjāyate kiñcit, sattvaḿ sthāvara-jańgamam
kṣetra-kṣetrajña-saḿyogāt, tad viddhi bharatarṣabha

 Oh Arjuna, whatever being, animate or inanimate, is born, know it to have emanated from the union of the क्षेत्र  ksetra (matter) and the क्षेत्रज्ञ ksetrajna (consciousness). Here Lord Krishna says to Arjuna that whatever is created in this world is a product of the union of the spirit and matter, the essential and the incidental; it is  सच्चिदानन्द  saccidananda alone, in some name and form or the other. In this cloth that I am wearing, the aspect of cotton is its essence and the fact of its being cloth is incidental. One must learn to separate the abiding, the inherent, the unchanging and essential from that which is changing and incidental. We have to investigate and discriminate between the two.

What about the self? Well, consider what it is that is unchanging and inherent about you. That would be the truth, your inherent reality. The essence of a golden ornament is the gold of which it is made, while the different forms and designs in which it may appear may change. Similarly, there is a part of you that keeps on changing at any moment, you may be a walker, dreamer, sleeper, speaker, or worker; these forms, or states are constantly changing. Then what is it in you that never changes? It is the fact that you ’are’ that never changes. The I ’am’ never changes. Your roles as a son, a father, a brother or friend, a sleeper, dreamer, speaker or teacher keep on changing, but the fact that you ’are’ never changes.

How do I know that I ’am’? Do I need to hear myself to know that I am? Do I need to touch myself to know whether I am? Do I ever need to say, “Let me see whether or not I am there”? Understand that even seeing, touching, hearing etc., can take place only when one is there in the first place. Making any such effort presupposes that one ’is.’ If I want to know where I am, I may need to ask somebody or look around to determine my position. However, to know that I ’am’ does not require any effort on my part. Everything requires the ’I’ to reveal it, whereas, the ’I’ itself does not require anything in order to reveal itself. That I ‘am’ or that you ’are’ is self-revealing. This is the meaning of such: bhami, I always shine.

Being and shining or revealing always go together. For instance, there is a flower in my hand. When can you say the flower is? Only when the flower is, that you can see it; only when you see it can you cognize it. Only when the flower becomes an object of your awareness do you see it. However, when can the flower become the object of your awareness? That can happen only when it is. So which comes first? Is it the fact that you see it or the fact that it exists? Unless it exists you cannot see it and unless you see it you cannot be aware of its being there. This is why being and shining or being and knowing happen together.

To be and to shine are not two different things. That you are is a self-revealing and undeniable fact about you. Nobody can take away from you the fact that you ’are.’ That you are smart can be taken away by proving you not to be so, or that you are successful can be proved wrong by pointing out your failures. Such concepts are relative, whereas the fact that you are and that you shine is not relative; it is not a point of view. The fact of your being does not depend on anything else for it to be. It is the one aspect of you that is independent of everything else.

Now the poet says, कदचिन्नाहमप्रिय: kadacit na aham apriyah, I am never ‘not dear’ to myself, meaning, I always love myself. One may ask, “How do you say that I love myself”? Sometimes, I hate myself for having done something wrong.” It is true that sometimes, people hate themselves so much, they want to commit suicide. Nobody would want to commit suicide if they did not hate themselves. However, upon careful deliberation, we can see that every instance of self-hatred is indeed a hatred of pain, of failure; what one hates is the incapability that has led to the failure. Why do we hate these things? It is because there is always love for oneself.

We love the limitless self, which is  आनन्द ananda (bliss), so we hate that which makes us feel limited. A person has thoughts of suicide when there is no hope in life and he feels helpless. Yet this only shows a hatred for pain and not hatred for existence, only, he does not know how to end the pain. The impulse to end his existence only reflects his desire to end the pain. In fact, even hatred for life reveals the love for the self, and, therefore, under no condition, कदाचित् kadacit, does one hate oneself; in other words, under all conditions, one loves oneself.

The love for the self is unconditional. For instance, while others may not like to see our faces, we love to see ourselves in the mirror. We keep looking at ourselves when we brush our teeth, or when we comb our hair after a shower, and ‘We never miss a chance to look at ourselves on any reflecting surface, even if it looks distorted!

But why is the body so dear to us? It is because the self is reflected in it; it is not dear when the self does not reflect in it. As Sri Sankaracarya says in the Bhaja Govindam (Bh.Go – 6), भार्या बिभ्यति तस्मिन्काये  bharya bibhyati tasmin kaye, even the wife fears the body of the husband once the life-breath leaves it. Even the wife that loved the husband more than her own life fears his body once life ceases to reflect in it, once the grace of the self is no longer present in it. Anything becomes clear because of its association with the self and it remains so for as long as it reflects the self.

When does something reflect the self? It is seen to reflect the self as long as it is favorable to us, as long as it is helpful to us or pleasing to us. The moment things start hurting us, they do not remain the object of our love. We love things as long as they reflect the self or are favorable to us. While the love for everybody and everything else is conditional, the love for the self is unconditional.

Everything about us changes, but that we are aware never changes. We are aware in the waking state, we are aware in the dream state, and we are aware in the sleep state as well. We are of the nature of that awareness, which illumines the waking, dream, and deep sleep states. In the deep sleep state, we are not aware of anything particular, but unconditioned awareness is nevertheless present. In a pitch-dark room, we do not see anything Yet when we say that we do not “see” anything, what do we mean? It is only when our eyes have the ability to see anything at all that we can say we do l not see anything. Saying we do not see anything in darkness nevertheless involves seeing; it simply means that one is aware of the absence of everything.

The eyes see even in a dark room, but they see only darkness. It is because of this that we can say that it is dark. Similarly, even in the deep sleep state, there is awareness; only, there is nothing to be aware of. The self is always shining and as awareness illumines the waking, dream and deep sleep states. This awareness has no boundary because it has no form or attributes. We are of the nature of that attribute-less awareness.

Asti is sat, bhati is cit, and priyam is ananda, because happiness is so dear to us. Wherever there is ananda, there is also love. Therefore, we are sat-cit-ananda. What is the nature of ब्रह्मन् brahman? That is also sat-cit-ananda. The Taittiriya Upanisad (2-1) defines brahman as सत्यं ज्ञानं अनन्तं satyam, jnanam, anantam. Satyam means truth, jnanam means knowledge, and anantam means limitless. Whatever is limitless is also ananda.

As the Chandogya Upanisad says, (Ch.Up. 7-23-1) यो वै भूमा तत्‌ सुखं yo mi bhuma tat sukham, what is limitless is indeed happiness. Satyam is the same as sat and jnanam is the same as cit. Therefore, brahman is the same as sat-cit-ananda. Because we are also sat-cit-ananda, it stands to reason that we are brahman; brahman is our essential nature. It is in this manner that the author shows the possibility that we can be brahman.

Brahman is sat-cit-ananda. The abiding reality of each one of us is also sat-cit-ananda. Even though the states of waking, dream, and sleep come and go and our roles as doer, enjoyer etc. are variable and constantly changing, अस्ति भाति प्रियं asti bhati priyam, never leaves us under any condition; it is अबाधितं abadhitam, never negated. You are asti bhati priyam always, at all times, in all places, and under all conditions. At no time are you not asti bhati priyam. You cannot get away from it, just as a golden ornament cannot get away from gold.

Upon being told this, however, a question immediately arises. How can I be brahman’? I am limited in power, knowledge, and strength, and insignificant in every way, so how can I be the limitless brahman? Vedanta says that even the insignificant can be limitless, because insignificance obtains solely at the level of the form. For instance, a drop of water might feel insignificant if it compares itself with the ocean; here it is looking at itself as a form, a tiny drop, whereas the ocean is endless. However, if it thinks of itself as water, it would feel no different from the ocean. As a drop, it is insignificant in size and extent compared to the size and boundless nature of the ocean, but as water, it is the truth of the very ocean itself. Similarly, you are limited only at the level of the उपाधि  upadhi (costume) and your reality is no different from brahman; you are sat-cit-ananda.

When brahman manifests in the costume of a limited name and form, it is the ego, the jiva, and when the same brahman manifests in the costume of the totality, it is Isvara. In essence, however, Jiva and Isvara are are not different. In the Upadesa Saram, Sri Ramana Maharshi (Upadesa Saram 24) says,

ईश जीवयोर्वेषधीभीदा|
सत्स्वभावतो वस्तु केवलम् ||

isa-jivayor vesa-dhi-bhida, sat-svabhavato vastu kevalam

 due to the reality given to the costume (upadhi) there is the notion of division between Isvara and जीव jiva. However, from the standpoint of the essential nature, which is sat, the truth is only one. The difference between ईश्वर Isvara and जीव jiva is thus restricted to वेष  vesa in terms of their essential nature, the jiva is as much अस्ति भाति प्रियं asti bhati priyam as is lsvara.

Is it really true that your experiential reality shows you to be limited? Is it indeed your direct experience that you are limited? What is direct experience? It is something that takes place in the mind and through the sense organs. However, आत्मा atma obtains as the witness. The sense organs and the mind cannot objectify it. The fact is that your self or atma cannot be objectified by any available प्रमाण  pramana or means of knowledge. You can truly never really ’see’ yourself. In reality, it is a mere notion that you are limited, something that you just take for granted. You believe quite strongly that you are an insignificant speck in this universe, limited in every possible way. Nevertheless, who is it that says you are insignificant? It is you yourself who Says that you are insignificant. Yet on what grounds do you say that?

Have you ever experienced yourself to conclude that you are limited? Given that the self cannot be objectified, how do you say you are limited? Is it because you were born, because you have a body that is subject to various limitations, and because you are going to die some day? What was born? Only the body is born; you are not born. The conclusion that one is limited truly has no basis. You may feel that you are a limited being, but the self that is judged to be limited is indeed not available for direct experience, unlike this flower in front of me, which is there for you to see here and now.

आत्मा Atma cannot be objectified by any available means of knowledge, and, therefore, not available to inference or to any other means of knowledge. The conclusion of the self being limited thus has no basis. You can never see the ’I’ directly and you cannot experience it in any way or even visualize it, like you can any other object. It is like looking at yourself in a mirror and concluding that there is a big stain on your face, when, in reality, the stain is a flaw or smudge in the mirror. In the same way, you look at your body, see that it is limited, and conclude that you are limited. The cause for it is the identification with the body, which is the non-self. There is a lack of discrimination between the self and the non-self.

The self can never become the object of perception or object of knowledge. It is of the nature of knowledge and cannot become the object of knowledge; it is the witness and cannot ever be witnessed or objectified. So you must understand that you cannot ever say that it is your experience that you are a limited being. It is a conclusion and not an experience.

When I see a snake where, in fact, there is only a rope, it is again a conclusion; it is my projection and not a reality. In the same way, the limitedness of the body-mind complex is projected on the self and you take yourself as limited. Limitedness is present in the vesa or costume alone. That one is limited is not an experience, but a projection. Let alone experience this limitedness, you cannot even infer limitedness, for all inference is based on perception.

Swami Viditatmandanda Saraswati

Excerpts from Advaita Makaranda of Sri Lakshmidhara Kavi

Link to Swamiji’s Various Discourses

Vishnu Sahasranamam: Why so many names? Why should I chant all these names?

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The Visnu sahasranamam is a compilation of the different names of the Lord. Why should I chant all these names? Can I not repeat any one name several times? If there are so many Visnus, which one am I calling? The word Visnu is applicable only to the Lord. It is derived from the root visl विश्ल, vyaptau व्याप्तु, meaning to pervade. So Visnu means one who is all-pervasive. The all-pervasive is only one, not more than one. This name is appropriate only for the Lord, and nobody else. Therefore, when I call out to Visnu, nobody else but the Lord can come. Being all-pervasive, he cannot be away from me; he is inside as well as outside. The moment I call for Visnu, there is no question of him not hearing me. Why, then, are there so many names? If he does not respond to one name, will he respond to a different one? These verses are not even complete sentences that I can understand through syntax.

 The names of the Lord in the Visnu Sahasranamam are so many words, one after another. The reason there are so many names is that if you do not understand one word, you can go on to the next. If you do not understand the second word, there is the third, and so on. The Amarakosa, authored by Amarasimha, is the classic Sanskrit thesaurus. Unlike a dictionary, this consists only of a series of synonyms and not meanings or explanations. For instance, when we look up the word Visnu,18 it says Krsna, Damodara, and so on. However, if you do not understand any of the 1000 words, what do you do? Then you need to understand them.

“But, I am praising the Lord by chanting the sahasranamam.” Who are you to praise the Lord? You can praise a person only when you are an equal, that is, when you have adequate knowledge to understand who the person is. You cannot flatter lsvara. You flatter someone only when you describe the person as being greater than he is. In fact, when you cannot describe the Lord adequately to begin with, how can you presume to say something that describes him as being greater than he is? For example, let us analyze the praise, “Oh Lord! You are omniscient, all knowledge” You cannot call him all-knowledge because you yourself do not know what it means. It is like Einstein being praised as the greatest scientist of his time by an elementary school dropout! Einstein would be neither flattered nor praised by his words.

As an individual, jiva, I must be qualified to praise the Lord. If the Lord is all-knowledge, I have no way of understanding what all-knowledge is. I have limited knowledge and cannot even spell the Word omniscient. If he is a Bhagavan of infinite virtues; where is the question of praising or flattering him?

A स्त्रोत्र stotra is meaningful only when it comes from a wise person

Suppose one commits to writing a set of 108 names, one may, at some point, run out of meaningful names to write, but would need to keep on writing names nevertheless We do find such meaningless names in some of the astottarasata namavalis. We still use them because, for Bhagavan everything is okay. The author is very important in such stotras because We are talking of the Lord. The words have to come from a heart that knows. it is a set of words coming from somebody who understands his or her own limitations, and at the same time understands the Lord because of the शास्त्र  sastra. That is why the sastra is so important here.

The stotra is meaningful only when it comes from one who knows the sastra. The human mind cannot fathom ईश्वर Isvara, but the sastra is something that we can employ to understand lsvara and bless ourselves. Generally, our knowledge is fraught with ignorance; we may know something in one area, but not know much in many others. Even to ask questions in a particular area, we need to know many things about it. We do not know enough even to ask questions. Therefore, who is this human being to praise the Lord?

Those who understand the sastra may not know what all-knowledge means, but they do know that the word ‘omniscient’ describes one who is free from ignorance and confusion. The one who praises the Lord is the one who is ‘I know’ and ‘I don’t know’ person. If the ‘I know’ statement is more and the I don’t know’ is less, you are almost all-knowing. However, our situation is such that ‘I don’t know’ is always much more than ‘I know’. The area of ignorance is not there in the one who is all knowledge which is why you can use the wonderful word Ananta अनन्त  (end-less) to describe the Lord at every level. He is ananta in terms of time, ananta in terms of space, and ananta in terms of knowledge, wisdom, and creativity. You can understand and address lsvara this way and it would not be mere praise at all.

However, if the praise, comes from the heart of one who knows, those words become meaningful. Veda Vyasa is such a person. He is a सर्वज्ञ कल्प sarvajna-kalpa, one who has knowledge in all the areas that count, that makes life meaningful. From Veda Vyasa have come these names forming what is known as Visnu sahasranamam. These names are not ordinary words. They are highly meaningful. Many names of the Lord in the Visnu sahasranamam reveal the nature of Bhagavan. If you understand their meaning, you will find that the names contain the essence of Vedanta.

A word and its meaning are inseparable

A word and its meaning are inseparable. Once you know the meaning of a word, it is never separate from the word in your mind. Until then, a word is just a sound or set of sounds. Therefore, a word is a word only when you know its meaning. Once the meaning is known, the word disappears giving way to its meaning. Only the meaning remains in your mind as an object of recognition. That is what we mean when we say a word and its meaning are inseparable.

Words can be meaningful only when they come from somebody who knows the sastra, a शास्त्रज्ञ sastrajna. Only a sastrajna can write. Coming as they do from a heart that really understands Isvara, words become an expression of bhakti, an expression of that person’s knowledge of Isvara. Through these words we get in touch with the devotion in the heart of that person. We also arrive at the Vision of Isvara, the truth of Isvara. This is the reason why we have stotras like the Visnu sahasranamam.  

There are sahasranamams of different deities, but many of the names are the same in form or in meaning. Only the words that describe the episodes, lilas, in the various incarnations of the Lord will be different. Since that truth is only one, the words are bound to be the same in form or in their meaning. Bhagavan Vyasa is arguably the most important link in the Vedic tradition. This sahasranamam is presented by the sage in his astounding epic, Mahabharata.

Isvara is revealed by the One Thousand Names in the Visnu sahasranamam. The more you understand the words, the less alienated you are from Isvara. Once this is understood, the repetition of these words becomes a means of contemplation. I know many learned mahatamas daily repeating these words, and ‘seeing’ their meaning. More often than not, they are bound to be the very meaning of these words. This is called निदिद्यासन nididhyasana, contemplation, necessary for abiding  निष्ठा nistha.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Excerpts from: Prayer Guide

What is the cause of the creation? Ignorance!

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आत्माज्ञानमहानिद्राज्र्म्भितॆस्मिञ्जगन्म्ये
दिर्घस्वप्ने स्फुरन्त्येते स्वगमोक्षादिविभ्रमा
:

 Atmajnanamhahanidrajrmbhite sminjaganmaye
Drghasvapne sphurantyete svargamoksadivibheamah

 एते = these, स्वर्ग-मोक्ष-आदि विभ्रमाः = delusions like heaven, liberation etc, अस्मिन् = in this, आत्मा-अज्ञान-महानिद्रा-जृम्भिते = projected out of the great sleep (called) ignorance of the self;  जगन्मये = of the nature of (this) universe; दीर्घ-स्वप्ने  = in the long dream; स्फुरन्ति;  = spring forth.

In this long dream of the nature of this universe projected out of the great sleep, called ignorance of the self, do all these delusions like heaven, liberation etc., spring forth. (Advaita Makaranda, 18)

दीर्घ-स्वप्ने  Dirghasvapne means in this long dream. How long is the dream? It is going on since time-without-beginning. What are we told about it? स्वर्ग-मोक्ष-आदि विभ्रमा Svarga-moksa aadi-vibhramah, that the delusions of heaven, liberation etc., appear in this long dream. स्फुरन्ति Sphuranti, and in this long dream do all these things shine. What is this sleep or this dream? आत्मा-अज्ञान-महानिद्रा Atma-agana-mahanidra, this long sleep is of the nature of the ignorance of आत्मा aatma or one’s true nature, and the long dream is the world, which arises out of this sleep. Ignorance is compared to sleep here.

Here sleep is not just deep sleep; it is sleep characterized by dream. In deep sleep, there is no संसार samsar, since the I-notion is absent. It is the dream in which projection takes place. Therefore, the Bhagavad Gita (2.69) says:

या निशा सर्वभूतानां तस्यां जागर्ति संयमी |
यस्यां जाग्रति भूतानि सा निशा पश्यतो मुने: ||

ya nisa sarva-bhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami
yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisa pasyato muneh !!

ya–what; nisa–is  night; sarva–all; bhutanam–of living entities; tasyam–in  that; jagarti–wakeful; samyami–the self-controlled; yasyam–in which; jagrati–awake; bhutani–all beings; sa–that is; nisa–night; pasyatah–for the introspective; muneh–sage.

In the reality to which all the creatures are sleeping, the wise person is awake. That which is night to the wise, there, the ignorant creatures keep awake.

Ignorance is often compared to the state of sleep or the darkness of the night; both deprive us of the perception of what truly is. In the case of sleep, there is often also a projection of the dream, comparable to the projection of a snake on rope. This projection is प्रातिभासिक सत्ता pratibhasika-satta or a subjective . projection, being the projection of the individual mind. Then there is the creation in the waking state, which is an objective reality, a projection of माया maya or the cosmic mind, the creative power of ईश्वर Isvara.

The individual projection, such as the dream, is called जीव श्रुष्टि jiva-srasti, and Isvara’s projection, viz., this objective world of names and forms, is called ईश्वर श्रुस्ष्टि Isvara-srsti. Being projections, both are मिथ्या mithya, and, very often, the individual projection is cited as an example to explain the reality of the creation, which is called a long dream, dirgha-svapna.

In the verse of the Bhagavad Gita quoted above, Lord Krishna says that the ignorant are asleep to the reality, meaning that they are unaware of the reality to which the wise are awake. That reality is the self, the consciousness or ब्रह्मन् brahman, the very substratum of the universe of names and forms. The universe exists and shines because of brahman, just as a projected snake exists and shines upon the rope, its substratum. The wise know brahman as the self that is self-shining and give no reality to the world of duality.

When it is said that the wise person is asleep to the world, what is meant is that he does not give reality to the world; he knows it to be mithya. On the other hand, the ignorant person gives reality to the world of names and forms, to the duality, which is a projection and is compared to a dream. In the dream state, a person is asleep to the reality of the waking world and awake to the dream world projected by his own mind. Similarly, the ignorant person is both sleeping and awake at the same time; he is asleep to the absolute reality that is brahman and awake to the objective reality or projection, in taking it to be real. The ignorant are all asleep to the reality of the self, but awake to this world, which they look upon as real.

What is the cause of the creation? Vedanta states that maya or ignorance gives rise to the creation. We call mithya the projecting power, while the scientists call it energy. There are two aspects to ignorance -its power to veil and its power to project. In the rope-snake example, there is delusion of there being a snake where there is only a rope; here the snake is a projection and the rope is veiled. In the same manner, the true nature of self is veiled by self-ignorance, while all kinds of false notions are projected upon it. The false notions about oneself are the reason for creation. If I knew myself correctly, there would be no need to create anything.

What is the purpose of the creation? The creation exists so that our desires may be fulfilled. What is the desire? It is that we should be free, limitless. How can there be a desire to be limitless, when one is already limitless? It is because we are not only unaware of this truth, but also take ourselves to be limited; hence, we are constantly striving to fulfill our desire to become limitless, to become free. The universe must necessarily be there to enable us to fulfill our desire to be limitless, which is indeed the desire behind all desires.

Desires are of two kinds: one is the desire for स्वर्ग svarga – heaven or material prosperity, and the other is the desire for moksa मोक्ष, liberation or spiritual prosperity. To some, moksa becomes very important, and, to some others, svarga. The desire for moksa indeed amounts to the limitless seeking limitlessness. The one who is of the very nature of आनन्द ananda searches in vain for happiness; this absurdly ridiculous situation in our lives is created by ignorance. Desire is thus the product of the ignorance of one’s true self.

Why do we say that the universe exists so that we may fulfill our desires? It is, because, to fulfill even a simple desire, such as for a cup of tea, you need the Whole universe to cooperate. For instance, you need tea, you need sugar, you need water, and perhaps milk, and then you need a stove on which to heat the water. Yet, come to think of it, you would also need gas to run the stove, and the gas comes from petroleum wells, and the sugar is extracted from sugarcane, which needs water, sunlight etc. to grow, which, in turn, will require the contribution of all the elements of the universe.

Indeed, therefore, to fulfill the simple desire for a cup of tea, you will find that there is an entire chain of requirements that depend on the help or contribution of the whole universe. It means that this entire universe is a product of countless desires, which have arisen from the primary desire to be free, which, in turn, is a product of ignorance.

Ignorance both exists and shines in consciousness. Therefore, consciousness or brahman is indirectly the reason for ignorance. The corollary is that consciousness is also the indirect cause of the creation and not the direct cause. Vedanta explains that the primary cause of creation is अविद्या avidya, ignorance or माया maya. However, maya is enlivened only in the presence of consciousness, and, therefore, in an indirect way, consciousness or brahman is also looked upon as the cause of the creation. God is called the creator, sustainer, and dissolver in an indirect sense; the universe is primarily created, sustained, and dissolved by maya. This is why the text describes universe as a long dream projected by the great sleep of ignorance.

The ignorance of the self is the great sleep because it is beginning-less. And it is called sleep because it veils the true nature of the self and projects the dream of the universe. In this long dream of the universe given reality by the ignorant do the delusions of heaven, liberation etc. shine. The dream world is real for one who is dreaming, and, similarly, the world of duality is real for the ignorant. He takes himself to be a limited being and entertains a desire to be free. Because of a lack of maturity, he looks upon svarga, the heaven or any other worldly or otherworldly achievement, as representing freedom and aspires to gain it. Another one, who has gained emotional maturity, understands the transient nature of all worldly and otherworldly achievements and desires; instead, he aspires to gain moksa or the permanent.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Excerpts from: Advaita Makaranda of Sri Laksmidhara Kavi

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses

What is Gayatri Mantra?

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The Gayatri-mantta is a very sacred. mantra from the Rig Veda. It has been known to grant brilliance of the intellect and guide one’s thoughts in the right direction.

ॐ भूर्भुवः॒ स्वः॒ तत्स॑वितुर्वरे॑ण्यम् भ॒र्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑ धीमहि। धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त्॥

 om bhurbhuvah svah, tatsaviturvarenyam,
bhargo devasya dhimahi, dhiyo yo nah pracodayat

Om is the basis of everything earth, the space in between, and the heaven. We invoke that Lord who 18 the most venerable, the Sun. We meditate upon the adorable splendor of that effulgent, all-knowing Lord.

May he brighten our minds and direct the intellect in the right direction.

Om is the name of the Lord. Bhuh, bhuvah, and svah are called vyahrtis, mystical utterances that bring about auspiciousness. They stand for this world, the intermediate world, and the heaven. They also denote sat, cit, dnanda. Om, the name of the Lord, is equal to bhuh, bhuvah and svah, which signify the Lord. This statement om bhurbhuvah svah, is followed by the actual Gayatri mantra, which has two parts.

The first part of the Gayatri-mantra is tatsaviturvarenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi. Dhimahi, we meditate upon, bhargah, the splendor, which is described as varenyam, the most adorable. Whose splendor is this? Savituh devasya the splendor of the self-effulgent Sun. This is a prayer to the Lord who manifests in the form of Sun. We meditate upon the most adorable splendor of the Sun, who is the self-effulgent Lord. The second part of the prayer is dhiyo yo nah pracodayat. Nah, our, dhiyah, thoughts, yah pracodayat, may he guide; may the self-shining, self-effulgent deity guide our thoughts in the proper direction.

Light stands for knowledge, so a prayer to Lord Sun also becomes a prayer for knowledge. The sun can be said to symbolize the Lord who is of the nature of knowledge. This can become a prayer to the Sun, seeking his grace to inspire our thoughts and give our minds the same brilliance that is his nature. The sun can also symbolize Isvara, the Lord, in which case we are seeking Isvara’s grace and guidance. The self-shining entity can also mean our very self, in which case we are seeking the grace of the self that illumines our thoughts to guide our minds in the right direction.

Swami Viditatmananda Sarawati

Excerpts from Satsanga with Swami Viditatmananda, Vol: 2

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses