I(WHAT IT IS TO LIVE AS A HINDU - Continued)
Another point worthy of note. This is peculiar to Hinduism. In Hindu mythology, though heaven and hell are talked about, neither nor heaven nor hell has any opportunities for you to exhibit your devotion to God. They are only places for experiencing what you have to experience. Any feeling of reverence that you may have to the Supreme Almighty has to be given expression to, by your coming down to Earth. This Earth is the place where bhakti can thrive, can yield fruits, and can make sense. So even the divines who live in heaven – like Indra, Varuna, Vayu and others – have to come down to Earth to do their worship, when necessity arises. So there are legends and legends, of their coming down to this or that temple on this Earth and offering worship or of atoning for any ignoble acts they might have committed. Go to any Indian temple of olden times. They will tell you stories of how Indra or another divine of his level offered puja in that temple and was cured of the curse on him. This makes the temple and the deity of the temple more important for us, earthly devotees.
There is no other culture in the world whose literature is so fully replete with myriads of such manifestations of divinity and the exploits of that Supreme almighty for the benefit of His devotees. This is not to say that Indians have been the most religious or devoted, among all the civilisations of the world. It is only to say that India’s past goes beyond the few milleniums into which history dares peep into.
India’s past is so ancient and goes back to several millions of years that these events that have been recorded in the form of deities represented in various temples have been discarded by history as belonging to mythology. For instance, the deity Nataraja, of the temple of Chidambaram, where Lord Siva had blessed His devotees Patanjali and Vyagrapada with His cosmic dance cannot be dated historically. Carbon dating and other scientific methods can apply only to the physical matter connected with the temple structure. It can in no way affect the concept enshrined in the temple that motivated the building of the temple and this concept is older than anything that history can speak of. There are innumerable temples that baffle us like this in the entire Indian subcontinent. Every non-resident Indian, in addition to exposing his or her children to books that speak about India, its culture and its temples, should also be able to take them, with pride, through the length and breadth of the country mainly to look at and understand the concept and mythology behind the several temples. As a first step they should be able to spend time on the internet with sites that show these temples. One such massive site is the Templenet site.
The multitude of temples where we find ourselves in the presence of a fantastic atmosphere of architecture, sculpture, frescoes, exuberance of idols, the calm serene times when the temples are isolated and we are left alone with the deities, and in contrast the plethora of festivals with their glamour of celebration, majesty, pomp, crowd and noise -- all these cannot but have a cultural impact on the children. It is unfortunate that when such tours are attempted and planned, the parents sometimes leave the children behind because of various real and imaginary inconveniences, allegedly to the children, but in reality to themselves.
Besides the ritualistic pUjA, which is the classical expression of an individual’s bhakti, the most well-known expression is that of nAma-samkIrtana, collective or individual. The repetition of God’s names can be very rewarding in terms of the elevation of the mood and the spiritual awakening of the mind. In Samskrit one finds that every proper name has a meaning. It is usually a meaning that is derived from the root syllables that go into the name. To repeat ceaselessly the names of God is to be immersed in the ecstasy of identity with the glories of God as encompassed by the name we chant.
He is ‘Siva’ because He is the auspicious among the auspicous. PavitrANAm pavitram is the scripture. He is Sankara because He gives you the ultimate auspiciousness, He makes you happy. He is kesavah because kah means brahmA; ha means VishNu; and Isah means Rudra and kah + IsaH + ah gives the meaning: The One of whom all the three Gods of the Trinity are only subtle manifestations. He is Krishna because He attracts everybody; the root krish contains attraction in it. He is Krishna also because Krs stands for existence and na stands for bliss and so Krishna stands for the union of the two. He is nArAyaNa because He pervades all appearances that come out of the five elements.He abides in them and they in Him. Nara is Atman and from it arose all the five elements, the effects and these are naaras.He pervades them as their cause, both the efficient cause and the material cause; because He is the one who brought them into existence and He is also the One who Himself became the effects or appears as the effects. Therefore He is nArAyaNa. He is VishNu because He pervades everywhere. The root syllable for Vishnu is to pervade. He is Raama because the two syllables raa and ma indicate one in whose memory men revel in joy and happiness, because brahman itself is indicated by the word Rama and brahman is the source of all happiness. The syllable raa erases all impurities of the mind whereas the syllable ma insulates the mind from any further impurities. It was because of the importance of the name that Sage VasishTa chose that name for the godly son of King Dasaratha. The name ‘Rama’ is more important than the character ‘Rama’ of the Ramayana.
There is no end to the depth of meanings which are succinctly embedded in the myriads of names of God that Hinduism and the Samskrit language are capable of. The entire gamut of Hindu religion and philosophy goes into these names. For a lot more on this go to GLORY OF GOD'S NAMES
Now let us come to the ultimate purpose of Bhakti Yoga. It is the attainment of Grace from the Lord of worship. Grace does not mean that God is sitting up there in the heavens watching every one of our thoughts and movements and is dispensing justice by His moods of pleasure and displeasure. No. God is in the innermost recesses of our hearts. He resides in us as declared by Himself in Sloka 61 of the 18th chapter of the Gita. As a permanent resident of our hearts He knows our sincerity and anguish. His response to the worship is very often an over-flowing of His ever-present Love to His children, irrespective of the external characteristics of the devotion. He does not calculate the value of the things we offer Him, He only values the feeling behind our offering. It is only the attitude that matters.
Grace is over-flowing of the Divine Love into the devotee’s heart which is crystalline pure. It is in such crystalline purity that Divinity shows its own reflection. Ultimately whether it is karma yoga or bhakti yoga, it is the attitude with which one is approaching one’s task that matters. That is what decides whether what is being done is dharma or adharma. Any secular or religious action if it is done without an iota of selfishness or desire for gratification, in a spirit of detachment, dedication and surrender, will in due course become a habit or a way of life and this is what Hinduism demands of its followers. But this means an enormous amount of self-discipline. Those of us who have strong will perhaps can attempt this self-discipline by ourselves. But those of us who need a better motor-force than just will-power would rather seek divine help and appeal to Him for success in this attempt at disciplining ourselves.
In secular life, particularly, the attitude of surrender to the Supreme Will of the Divinie, the attitude of dedication to the cause of the organization that we work for or that we own (by His Grace!) and an absence of egoism from everything that we do, including the management of our subordinates or employees – these are the ways in which our religious attitudes have to be transmitted into our daily worldly life.
Whether it is the secular part or the religious part of our lives, one has to start by changing one’s attitude to daily matters of life. The control of the mind, which is the fundamental thing to attempt is a never-ending war with oneself. In this war, the only thing that helps is to keep close to the source of all strength, energy and power in the world, namely God. The attitude of an undercurrent of awareness of the omnipresence of God is what Hinduism strongly recommends for every one of us, whatever may be our station in life. This undercurrent of awareness can be illustrated by a very mundane example, which almost verges on the silly.
All of us have memories of our visits to Indian temples. Think of a temple situated in an out-of-the-way location like a remote village, where there is no organized system of caretaking of your footwear which you leave outside the temple entrance. You go inside the temple, do your prayers, visit the various secondary shrines or sannadhis inside the temple, perform archanas, wait for the archaka to finish all the formalities of distribution of prasad to you, have a look at the architectural beauty of this ancient temple, react to the conversations that comment on the dilapidated nature in which they have been maintaining these temples, throw away statements like: if only it were America, they would have done it this way or that way, respond positively to the temple authorities’ request for donations for such and such a celebration that is just round the corner -- -- thus you are engaged in multifarious thoughts, dialogues and actions. But all the time, virtually all the time, in your mind there has been an undercurrent of worry about the security of the costly footwear collection that you and other members of your family have left outside, you have not forgotten where you have kept them, you have not failed to recall their price, you are trying to speed up matters within the temple so that quickly you may rush to the gate and recover them. Whatever worship or darshan you may be doing inside the temple, whatever enthusiasm you may be feigning to show in resonance with the genuine enthusiasm which the other members of your family are showing in that worship or darshan, all the time your subconscious mind is with the footwear outside.
Well, the point is made. That is what one means by an undercurrent of awareness.
Now the plea from Hindu religion is only this. In the above illustration, God’s matters, worship, temple, etc. these were all on the outer layers of your mind whereas the inner layer of your consciousness was filled up by the material problem of the safety of the footwear. Can you reverse the status of these two? While you keep all your material world worries, anxieties and activities, desires and ambitions, plans and strategies, rush and hush, on the outer layers of your mind, can you keep at the bottom portion of your mind, in a constant, continuous and unbroken way the awareness that God is present in you and around you and that you must thank Him for every moment of your existence? If we can train ourselves to make this constant awareness, as part of our system, there is nothing in the world that can overwhelm us, because the strength of the mind now is the strength of the divine. If one has this constant awareness, it will be very difficult for one to stoop to something mean, wrong or corrupt ways of life and behaviour.
It is this attitude of awareness of the divine presence that should be protected for the next generation. In order to sustain it as an unbroken attitude, the nAmasankIrtana, the reciting of God’s names, is prescribed. And this, namely, the practice of nAmasankIrtana, is the minimum activity that should be transmitted to the next generation and therefore should be protected and preserved for them, and for their sake, for the present generation. One should not have to resort to long recitations without understanding the meaning. Instead, parents and elders should only expect that the children imbibe something that would be meaningful to them, something to which they could relate and which would be of help to their moral and spiritual boosting when the time comes in their life to look for such solace. If today they are told that the various stotras of Hinduism (either in Sanskrit or in the regional languages of India) would bring them intelligence and good ranking in their studies and other activities, and bla-bla-bla, this does not cut ice with them because the outside world is not in the habit of attaching any values to such things. Any way the children think this is only a ‘commercial’ prayer.
It is suggested therefore that only the essential minimum be attempted. No attempt should be made to teach them things which are just mumbo-jumbo to them (and perhaps to the teacher also). It may be hoped that the children do understand however that there is a God above, and we should pray to Him with a sense of thanksgiving and remembrance. This prayer should be taught to them in such a way that they can match the meaning without much effort and time. Here comes the aptness of two lines from the taittirIya-upanishad:
taM nama ityupAsIta, namyante asmai kAmAH.
This means: If you worship Him with the word ‘namaH’ then you will have ‘desires’ fall at your feet. There is a slight play on the word ‘namaH’ in the text here. The word ‘namaH’ is a very important word, pregnant with meaning, in Hinduism. A whole chapter in the vedas is devoted to the repeated use of it with God’s names. This chapter called Sata-rudrIya is considered to be supreme for recitation and repetition in all private and public worship, rituals and the word ‘namaH’ is a very important word, pregnant with meaning, in Hinduism. A whole chapter in the vedas is devoted to the repeated use of it with God’s names. This chapter called Sata-rudrIya is considered to be supreme for recitation and repetition in all private and public worship, rituals and ceremonies. The word ‘namaH’ says not only that you prostrate (before the Lord), but it also says that the prostration indicates ‘na mama’ or ‘not mine’, meaning, ‘Everything is Yours, O Lord’. Desire is the greatest internal enemy of Man and he will never have salvation, according to Hinduism, until he is rid of all his desires. The upanishad says that God is to be worshipped with the word namaH on your lips and in your heart (lips, because of the attitude of prostration, and heart, because of the attitude of surrender of all proprietorship) and this would make all your desires to be at your feet, instead of you falling a prey to your desires. The western tradition of giving thanks to the Lord is built into and enlarged in Hinduism by the namaskAra way of paying obeisance to the Lord.
Since we want Hindu children of the next generation to have to do only the minimum possible
but at the same time get the maximum benefit when it is time for them to reach out for the divine,
the following specific suggestion is made.
Go to BOTTOMLINE ANSWER : 23.2