Makar Sankranti: A Union of Shakti and Bhakti

Makara Sankranti is the day when the the Sun transitions into Capricorn (Makara Rashi) on its celestial path in the zodiac. In India, this festival is celebrated by sharing Sesame and Jaggery.

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has beautifully explained the significance of this ancient practice of sharing Sesame seeds and Jaggery and its relevance in society today. We are like sesame seeds with respect to this Universe. If you see, what is our significance in this universe; what is life? Next to nothing, like a sesame seed; a mere speck! We are minuscule. We need to remember this message. We are tiny and sweet; delightful like sesame seeds with jaggery. So stay small and sweet, and together with many others you will truly become big.

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Gurudev says four things are needed to be successful: Shakti (strength), Bhakti (devotion), Yukti (skill) and Mukti (freedom). If even one of these is lacking, life would not be successful. To succeed in society, strength and skill are needed, and if you want to experience success in personal or spiritual life, devotion and liberation are needed. We need to move along with all four. The union of Bhakti and Shakti is what is required. This will strengthen the spirit of the people in the world today.
carousel--1366x455-peaceLet us come together like Sesame seeds and Jaggery – the union of Shakti and Bhakti and give the world a message of universal love and peace. The World Culture Festival is a unique opportunity for us to strengthen our spirit – in a world that is increasingly torn by strife and violence. A beautiful chance to make the voice of peace to be heard loud and clear – and celebrate our cultural diversity and resolve to protect and care for the planet we all call home. Come join  us in New Delhi on March 11, 12 and 13th, 2016.

A very Happy Sankranti, Pongal, Bihu and Lohri to all!

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Ganesha Chaturthi: Experiencing the Formless through the Form

Happy Ganesha Chaturthi! The following article by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gives an insight into the symbolism behind this festival venerating one of the most beloved deities in Hinduism. Enjoy reading and do share your thoughts!

 Experiencing the Formless through the Form

Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated on the a day on which Lord Ganesha is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees. Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. Though it is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the symbolism behind the festival is much deeper.

The essence of Ganesha is brought out beautifully by Adi Shankara. Though Ganesha is worshiped as the the elephant-headed God, the form (swaroop) is just to bring out its parabrahma roopa. Ganesha is described as Ajam Nirvikalpam Niraakaaramekam. This means that Ganesha is never born.

He is Ajam (unborn), he is Niraakaar (formless) and he is Nirvikalpa (attributeless). Ganesha symbolises the consciousness which is omnipresent. Ganesha is the same energy which is the reason for this universe, from which everything is manifested and it’s the same energy in which the whole world will be dissolved. Ganesha is not somewhere outside of us, but the very centre of our life. But this is very subtle knowledge. Not everybody can percieve the formless without the form. Our ancient sages knew this; so they created the form for the benefit and understanding of people at all levels. Those who can’t experience of the formless, over a period of sustained experience of manifested form reach the formless Brahman.

The Panchamukha Ganesha in the Panchagiri Campus, International Art of Living Center, Bangalore

 The Panchamukhi Ganesha at the International Art of Living Center in Bangalore, India

So in reality, Ganesha is formless; yet there is a form to which Adi Shankara prayed and that form carries the message of the formlesness of Ganesha. Thus, the form serves as the starting point and gradually the formless consciousness begins to manifest. Ganesha Chaturthi marks a unique art of reaching the formless Paramatma called Lord Ganesha by worship of the manifest form. Even the Ganesha Stotram, the prayers recited in the praise of Ganesha, conveys the same. We pray to Ganesha in our consciousness to come out and sit in the idol for us for a while so that we can play with him. And after the puja, we again pray asking him to go back to where he comes from; that’s our consciousness. While he is in the idol, we offer back whatever God has given us through the puja of the idol.

The ritual of immersing (visarjan) the idols after few days of worship reinforces the understanding that God is not in the idol, it’s inside us. So experiencing the omnipresent  in the form and deriving joy out of the form is the essence of the Ganesha Chaturthi festival. In a way such organised festivity and worships lead to an upsurge in enthusiasm and devotion.

Ganesha is the lord of all the good qualities in us. So when we worship him, all the good qualities will blossom in us. He is also the lord of knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge dawns only when we become aware of the Self. When there is inertia, there is no knowledge, no wisdom, nor is there any liveliness (Chaitanya) or progress in life. So the consciousness has to be awakened and the presiding diety of consciousness is Ganesha. That’s why before every puja, the Lord Ganesha is worshiped to awaken the consciousness.

Therefore, install the idol, worship it with infinite love, meditate and experience Lord Ganesha from within. This is the symbolic essence of Ganesha Chaturti festival, to awaken the Ganesha tatva which is masked inside us.

The Art of Service

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has said,

” When you have come to this world, do something good that benefits everybody. Do not stay entangled in thinking only what you will get. There is nothing for you to take away from this world. There is nothing to take away from here. You have come to give. You have come here to do something beneficial for everybody. And you should all get together in doing service.”

As I reflected over this profound wisdom today, I got to thinking whether there were any guidelines for doing service. I went through some books looking for this and found this story that my grandfather had written about service.
Riverside

Maharishi Mandavya was a great scholar in ancient times and had many disciples. One day, two of his disciples went from his ashram to the nearby riverside to gather flowers and fruits. While doing so, they observed a big scorpion slowly crawling along the riverbank.

One of the disciples cautioned the other, “Please keep away from the poisonous creature, as per the advice of our Master, to keep aloof from evil people and things.”

In the meantime, the scorpion slipped from the bank, fell into the river and was struggling for life. Upon seeing this, the second disciple immediately bent down, lifted the struggling creature with his hand and placed it upon the shore. While doing so, he was stung by the scorpion, causing him much pain.

The first disciple, on seeing the suffering of his friend, rebuked him and said, “You have ignored the teachings of our Master, and hence are in pain.”

“No,” said the other fellow, “I was only following the teachings of our Master, and how can they be wrong?”

While debating about the teachings of the Master, and its effects, the unfortunate scorpion again slipped and fell into the water, prompting the second disciple to lift it again from the water. In this process, he was once again stung by the poisonous creature.

Though he was in pain, the second disciple explained, “Our Master has taught us not to forsake our helping nature, but serve everyone, even though others might not appreciate or reciprocate it. While it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, it is my nature to help and save the scorpion.”

“But our Master has also taught us to keep away from evil people and rings, to protect and preserve our own safety. You have violated it and hence you are suffering.”

As they were unable to solve the apparent contradictions in the Master’s teachings, they both went back to him and explained their misgivings.

Maharishi Mandavya heard them with a smile and calmly said, “Both of you are partially right and partially wrong in understanding my words. There is no contradiction in them.”

“When I taught you to keep aloof from bad people and things, it was to save you from pollution through contact with evil. Any sensible person will do the same, unless he is strong and confident of reforming the evil doer.”

“When I taught you not to forsake your helping attitude, it was only to strengthen your basic human nature to serve. You should be like a true doctor who does not distinguish between friend and foe in relieving or reducing pain.”

“In the present case, the second disciple should have combined both the teachings of aloofness and service. It was his duty to save a struggling creature, but he could have used a stick to lift the scorpion and not his bare hands. By such action, he would have saved the poisonous creature’s life, and also saved himself from its sting.”

“But what to do if the bad thing is big and strong?” asked another disciple. “Then,” said the Master, “your first duty is self-preservation, as the instinct of survival is a basic fact of Life. Once safe, you can try to immobilize it, using the powers at your disposal,”

This interesting tale reveals how we could help others, without hurting ourself, using some guidelines for service as enumerated by our ancient Masters. This story was adapted from Tales for the Young and Old, by Acharya Ratnananda.

Navaratri: Time for an Inward Journey

Greetings and well wishes to all the readers on the auspicious and holy time of Navaratri.
In the Hindu tradition, Navaratri is a time for self-referral and returning to our source. The word Navaratri literally means nine nights in Sanskrit; Nava meaning Nine and Ratri meaning night. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of the feminine aspect of the Divine as Shakti are extolled. The seeker gets back to the true Source through fasting, prayer, silence, and meditation. Night or ratri brings rejuvenation. It gives relief at the three levels of our existence – physical, subtle, and causal. While fasting detoxifies the body, silence purifies the speech and brings rest to the chattering mind, and meditation takes one deep into one’s own being.
There is a story in ancient scriptures when Mother Divine destroyed the demon Mahishasura who had assumed the form of a bull. Mahishasura  represents dullness, small-mindedness and inertia.  Only the Mother Divine could destroy this demon with the collective energies of the Holy Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara (representing Creation, Maintenance, and Renewal). Just as a baby takes nine months to be born, the Divine Mother took nine days to rest, and what was born on the tenth day was pure love and devotion with which She conquered the demon of inertia and dullness.

“There are 64 divine mother impulses which govern the subtle creation. These are responsible for restoring all earthly and spiritual benefits. They are simply part of one’s awakened consciousness. These nine nights are celebrated to rekindle those divine impulses and celebrate the innermost depth of our lives.” says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The nine days of Navaratri are also an opportunity to rejoice in the three primordial qualities that make up the universe. Though our life is governed by the three gunas, we seldom recognize and reflect on them. The first three days of Navaratri are attributed to Tamas, the second three to Rajas and the last three to Sattva. Our consciousness sails through the Tamas and Rajas and blossoms in the Sattva of the last three days. Whenever Sattva dominates in life, victory follows. The essence of this knowledge is honored by celebrating the tenth day as Vijayadashami. Vijayadashami or Dussehra is celebrated all over India to symbolize the victory of good over evil.

From the Ramayana: A Secret Meeting

– By Acharya Ratnananda

 

“Oh! My sweet son Ramachandra, please pardon me for my cruelty in banishing you to the forest,” pleaded Queen Kaikeyi, with tears in her eyes when she met him alone in his hermitage in the forest of Chitrakoota.

Prince Bharata had come to the forest with his entire retinue to persuade Sri Rama to return to Ayodhya and resume Kingship. Bharata’s mother Kaikeyi also followed him to explain to Sri Rama, the real reasons for her seemingly sinful actions.

“Dear Queen mother Kaikeyi”, said Sri Rama, “I know that you love me more than your own son, and so there is no need for you to seek forgiveness from me.”

“Oh my son! I definitely did not want you to go to the forest. But it was the Divine mother Sharada, who appeared before me and appealed to me to grant her the boon to help in sending you to the jungle. To my surprise the Divinity explained the real purpose of your birth and who you are. Then I could not deny her request.”

“I am aware of it mother”, said the smiling prince. “Devi Sharada came to you as per my wish. You had the rare privilege as a human being to grant a boon to a divine being. It has never happened anywhere and at any other time.”

“But why was I chosen for this painful assignment and worse still, why was I prevented from sharing the real reasons behind my demands by Divine mother Sharada,” wept the mother of Bharata.

“My dear mother, you were chosen only because King Dasharatha had granted you two boons and he was bound to honor them. He could not refuse when you asked for the fulfillment of your wishes. He would never have agreed to send me to the forest, if the request had come from any other person. Secondly, your revealing the real reasons, either to my father, or to your son, would have completely messed up the whole plan! Hence, Devi Sharada obtained your consent for silence,” explained Sri Rama.

“By ensuring my silence, the Divine Mother made me a scapegoat and forced me to face the hatred of the entire community. Is this fair and proper?” wept the noble lady.

“I realize your pain. But you are also aware that according to our scriptures, an individual, if necessary, has to sacrifice his or her well-being for the welfare of the community at large. Besides, you have also helped the demon king Ravana and his brother Kumbhakarna”, replied Sri Rama.

“But how can it benefit the Demon king, whom you are going to kill anyway. Besides, is it not wrong to help and benefit an evil person?” queried the confused Kaikeyi.

“You are right in a way. But you are not aware that Ravana and his brother are not essentially evil, but are under a curse. In fact, they are my dear devotees, Jaya and Vijaya. I have taken this birth, not only to rid the world of the evildoers, but also to relieve them of their curse and reclaim them to my fold. Hence, please go back to Ayodhya in peace, and think of me. I shall be with you soon”, consoled the man of God who walked the Earth.

This beautiful and rare incident is detailed in “Veda Vyasa Ramayana”, and is not found in any other story of Sri Rama.

In fact, “Veda Vyasa Ramayan” is almost an autobiography of Sri Rama, as it was said to be narrated by Lord Narayana himself, to his beloved sister Devi Parvathi, and later documented by Maharishi Vyasa.