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.

What is the Secret to Happiness?

Was listening to Happy by Pharrell Williams on the way to work today and got thinking about the centrality of happiness in human life.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Father of the United States famously said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Happiness is perhaps the most important aspect of life. And yet, it is elusive for so many of us, caught in the rigamarole of daily life. Happiness has become an important subject of modern research. Prof. Paul Zak from Claremont Graduate University notes that people find greatest happiness in connecting with those around them. (See this link for more about his research:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/06/tpl-what-makes-people-happy_n_4548604.html ).

Even governments around the world have started thinking more systematically about the levels of happiness or well-being in their people – and how they can set policies that help people live happier and be more connected. The United Nations even publishes a world happiness report! The Government of Bhutan has played a leading role in calling for a new index – one of Gross National Happiness.

But what about the individual level? What are the sutras or tenets of wisdom that we can rely on to increase our happiness levels? I found the following article by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar particularly valuable. Enjoy reading!

Every living creature wants to be happy. Whether it is money, power or sex, you seek it for the sake of happiness. Some people even seem to enjoy misery because it gives them happiness!

To be happy, you seek something. But despite getting it, you are not happy. A schoolboy thinks that if he goes to college, he will be more independent, free and, therefore, happy. When you ask a college student whether he is happy, he feels that if he gets a job, he will be happy. Talk to somebody who is settled in his job or business, and you may find that he is waiting to get a perfect soul mate to be happy. Then what? When he gets a soul mate, he now wants a child, to be happy. Ask those who have children, if they are happy. They respond that how can they relax until the children have grown up and have had a good education and are successfully settled on their own? Ask those who are retired if they are happy? They long for the days when they were younger.

All of one’s life is spent in preparing to be happy someday in the future. It’s like making your bed all night, but having no time to sleep in it. How many minutes, hours and days of your life have you spent being happy from within? Those are the only moments you have really lived life. Those were perhaps the days when you were a small kid, completely blissful and happy or a few moments when you were surfing, swimming or sailing or on a mountain top, living in the present and enjoying it.

There are two ways of looking at life. One is thinking: “I’ll be happy after achieving a certain objective.” The second is saying: “I am happy come what may!” Which one do you want to live by? Life is 80% joy and 20% misery. But you hold on to the 20% and make it 200%! It is not a conscious act, it just happens. Living in the moment with joy, alertness, awareness and compassion is enlightenment. Being like a child is enlightenment. It is being free from within, feeling at home with everybody, without barriers.

Don’t judge and don’t worry about what others think of you. Whatever they think, it is not permanent. Your own opinion about things and people keeps changing all the time. So why worry about what others think about you? Worrying takes a toll on the body, mind, intellect and alertness. It is like an obstruction that takes you far away from yourself. It brings fear, and fear is nothing but the lack of love. It is an intense sense of isolation.

Relaxing through meditation and breathing exercises can handle this. When one is relaxed, one realizes that they are loved, and connected to everybody, and are a part of the whole universe. This will liberate you and the mind will completely shift. You will then find so much harmony around.

To find harmony, it is not as if you have to physically seek it by sitting somewhere for years. Whenever you are in love, your mind is in the present, you feel joyous. At some level, to some degree, everybody is meditating without being aware of it. There are moments when your body, mind and breath are all in harmony. That’s when you achieve yoga. The Art of Living lies in the present moment.

Springtime Cherry Blossoms

 

Navratri: The Nine Nights of the Divine Mother

On the auspicious occasion of Navratri, I am happy to share the knowledge Sheet that Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had dictated in 1996. Navaratri celebrates the nine nights of the Divine Mother in Hinduism. The following knowledge sheet speaks about its significance and relevance to our modern lives.

Weekly Knowledge #70

 09 Oct 1996

Mumbai, India

NAVRATRI

Navratri means the nine nights and also the new night. Creation happens in the darkness. In the womb of the mother and underneath the soil. Nine months in the womb are like nine long nights where the spirit takes human form.

Night provides rest and rejuvenation. At night, the entire creation goes to sleep including the ashram night watchman! (Laughter) People working come home at night and they celebrate, rejoice and pray. These Nine nights are precious as they have subtle energy. The subtle is enriched.

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.

Jai Guru Dev

Cleanse your body and cleanse your soul. Cleanse your body with water and your soul with knowledge and your spirit with pranayam and kriya. There is no penance higher than Pranayam. It is the greatest penance.