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.

When the Master Laughed

Maharishi Matanga was an enlightened sage who was respected across many kingdoms. He traveled extensively along with his disciples, and they had the benefit of learning about various cultures. Most of the time, and most of the people came to see the Sage with bundles of woes and worries. The Sage would listen to their concerns, and bless them in silence.

Once, during their stay at a prosperous town, the local chieftain came to see the sage with pomp and fanfare. A large retinue of fawning officials and followers accompanied the chieftain. The proud chieftain began to explain his exploits with much gusto. He claimed that he was so powerful, that he could protect everyone and control everyone in his province.
As he continued gloating about his invincibility, the Sage simply laughed. This greatly upset the fellow. When the chieftain queried as to why the Master laughed, the reply he got was more laughter. Feeling quite insulted, he left in a huff.
Several days later, the Sage and his disciples were passing by another town. The Sage was visited by a well-known Vaidya (physician) with his big retinue of assistants, who began to explain how he cured the illness of a large number of patients and gave them life. Even while they were thus reciting his praises, the master laughed. The physician felt insulted at this and left in a hurry.
Still later, in another town, the local temple priest had come with his devotees. They were singing and praising his enormous spiritual powers, and how he had pardoned their sins and promised deliverance for all those who came under his guidance.
Again, in the middle of their narration the Sage laughed, causing the priest to become flustered and leave in anger.
The disciples, who witnessed these instances, were confused by these unfamiliar responses of the master. “O Master”, they said, “Normally you bless people in silence, but on these occasions you not only did not bless them, but laughed at their achievements and forced them to withdraw in anger. May we please know the reason?”
The master said with a smile “My dear students, the chieftain tried to control other people’s future. He was so sure about it without realizing the uncertainty of his own future. The physician was sure of extending other’s lives unaware of the uncertainty of his own, the priest tried to replace the Divine in pardoning the sins of people, while ignoring his own. These egotistical individuals attempted to control the future, life, and also the faith of people. I laughed because the chieftain had no idea that he going to die early, the physician was going to be afflicted by an incurable disease, and the priest would become mad soon.”
“So”, the master said, “don’t try to take the credit for things much beyond you, but encourage others for self effort, through faith in the Divine and the guidance of an enlightened master.”
This story from the Upanishads reminds us that we cannot grant life, though we may help to maintain health, and we cannot control faith, though we may promote faithfulness.

 

This story from the Upanishads was compiled by Acharya Ratnananda in “More Light on Less Known: Courage, Compassion, Confidence” Volume 3. 

 

Learning and Love

Long, long ago and far, far away, there lived a great sage. His name was Maharishi Shounaka. He had many disciples, and would send them to the surrounding villages to spread his message on life and its purpose. Over time, this increased the ego of some of the senior disciples and they began to consider themselves the storehouse of all knowledge.

One day, a few of these disciples came to Maharishi Shounaka and said, “Master, we have been obeying your commands and conveying your message on the purpose of life to the people in the manner we have found good and desirable. But we find that our work serves no purpose! Most of these people are stupid, and they are either unwilling or unable to learn or change their way of life. We feel it is a waste of our valuable time to educate these people and pass on our knowledge to them.”

The sage was amused, but saddened by the rising ego of these disciples. He said, “You all seem to have acquired considerable knowledge about people and life.”

“Certainly Master,” they echoed in unison. “Our learning is approved and appreciated everywhere. We have learnt almost all that is worth learning.”

“I am indeed very happy to learn about the level of your expertise,” said the Master. “But before we can discuss these matters further, I suggest that you form two groups and approach people again. One group will find out all about knowledge without reading books, and the other group will find out all about love without physical contacts. You may return to me later with your findings.”

The egoistic disciples were rather dismayed and surprised at the strange commands of the Master and the queer nature of their assignment. How could anyone acquire knowledge without reading books? And how could anyone learn about love without physical contacts?

However, in obedience to the Master’s wishes, they went around, far and wide, in two groups, seeking the view of the people of the surrounding villages and town on these two matters. But lo! They met with ridicule and laughter, wherever they went. People laughed at them as two groups of idiots, not aware of the facts of life. Their ego got a good beating and they came back to the Master, crestfallen.

“Oh Master! You simply sent us on a fool’s errand. Everyone who respected us before is now laughing at us. Master, it is impossible to acquire knowledge, without reading books, and it is equally impossible to understand love without physical contacts.”

“Is it so?” said the Master with a smile. “Then, what is the knowledge that you have got from me? If real knowledge could be got from libraries and real love could be got from physical contacts, then why have you come to me? After reading volumes of books, and searching for love through physical contacts, why are people still ignorant of true knowledge and true love?”

The disciples were shocked and ashamed at their lack of wisdom and appealed to the Master for guidance. “My dear children,” said the wise sage, “please understand that real knowledge cannot be obtained by just studying books, but by a study of the people, for whom and from whom the books have come. We have to first educate ourselves about the people, before we proceed to educate them. We should avoid ridiculing people, without placing ourselves in their place. A closer study of people leads us to a clearer perception of them, which in turn results in a deeper understanding. From such an understanding flows a sympathetic acceptance.”

“To study, to understand, and to accept creation, as it exists, is real knowledge. All else is just plain information, though you may have given many names to it. In the same way, real love is that which sprouts from us and generates a sense of gratefulness to the Divine, who has blessed us with a body and mind, and provided us with endless wonder in this creation.”

“This boundless gratefulness leads to a total love for the Divine, who is our resource and who is also our refuge. Real love related to giving, and can only be related to the Divine. All else is just plain desire, the desire to possess and enjoy, though you may call it by many other names. In order to receive the benefits of such knowledge and love, one must have faith in the Master, as he represents both the creation and the Creator. Through an enlightened Master, you can learn that the knowledge of creation is real knowledge, and the love of the Divine is real love. It requires humility from you as a basic qualification.”

This story reveals what to seek from an enlightened Master, and the importance of pondering on the purpose of our life.

This story from the Upanishads was compiled by Acharya Ratnananda in “More Light on Less Known: Courage, Compassion, Confidence” Volume 3. 

All One!

Today, December 8, 2012, is my grandfather, Acharya Ratnananda’s 88th birthday. I fondly recollect my childhood and   growing up with him. His stories enriched our imagination and values. His example continues to inspire us to walk a path of love and service, in a humble yet joyous manner.

Acharya Ratnananda  All One!

–       By Acharya Ratnananda

“Give way! Get away!” shouted a disciple, while another screamed, “The Master is coming, everyone give way!” Most people  on the way complied. However, one rather unclean looking man and his company of dogs declined to budge, and stayed right in the middle of the path. The disciples accompanying the Master were quite upset with the behavior of this man and his barking dogs.

The Master also perceived the obstinacy of the obstacle and said in anguish, “Are you deaf? Did you not hear my disciples? Take yourself away from my path.” The man just laughed, increasing the discomfiture of the Master and the anger of his disciples.

He calmly looked at the Master and asked, “Whom do you want me to take away from your path? The Soul, which is in you and me, and is non-dual, or this body, which according to your teachings is a product of maya (illusion). How can you or I take either of them away from you or me?”

The disciples were shocked and stunned at these words from an unclean and uncouth specimen of humanity. However, they were prepared by now, to forcibly lift the man out of the way of the Master.

Even the Master was surprised. He realized that the concept of Advaita or one reality was thrown back at him in such a simple manner, by such a simple looking person.

He calmed his angry disciples and forbade them from harming the man. He folded his hands in obeisance and said, “My dear sir, you have educated the educator by polishing my knowledge with your experience. I bow to thee as my preceptor. Please could you tell me who you really are?”

“Reality is just one, and all our concepts could ultimately lead us to less than two, though it appears with a multitude of names and forms, qualities and qualifications, virtues and vices.”

“I am teaching this truth to others, but today I also learn this reality from you,” said the Master turned student.

The great Master was none other than Adi Shankaracharya, while the outwardly uncouth and unclean person was none other than the unmanifest Divinity in a manifest form.

This story teaches us to expect wisdom from even unexpected situations, and the true, non-dual nature of existence.

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.

Manifestations of the Divine

Once upon a time, there lived a King, whose daughter was both beautiful and intelligent. She often engaged the scholars of his court in debate and defeated them through her brilliance. This made the scholars frustrated and they were eagerly waiting for an opportunity to seek their revenge.

The time came, when the King consulted them to find a suitable husband for the lovely Princess. The scholars secretly welcomed the opportunity to teach her a lesson and offered to find a good husband for her.

After a long search, they found a fool of their choice. They promised good food and shelter for the poor and lazy fellow, if only he kept his mouth shut unless prompted by them. Though a little scared, the fool accepted the offer since it meant wages without work.

The scholars then dressed him up appropriately and presented him before the King and the Princess as a great and wise Pundit. The King was impressed by his appearance, but the Princess wished to test his depth of knowledge.

The scholars were prepared for this and they told her that the wise Pundit was observing silence and hence could only respond in sign language. The Princess was amused, but agreed to tackle him in silent speech.

Looking at him for a while, she slowly lifted her index finger and showed it to the fool. Soon one of the scholars sitting behind the fool gently pressed two fingers behind his back and prompted the fool to lift two fingers. She raised three fingers and the fool lifted four, after being secretly prompted.

A little surprised by this, the Princess however showed five fingers and waited for his response, which he did with six. She followed it by seven fingers and he replied with eight. When, with hesitation the Princess raised nine fingers, the fool (after secret prodding again), lifted all his ten fingers. The entire assembly was watching this silent battle of wits with surprise and curiosity.

The Princess was at a loss and slowly lifted one hand questioningly. The fool raised both his hands crossed one over the other. The lady now lost all her composure and could not stand the suspense.

She then appealed to the scholars, “If your colleague does not wish to speak, at lease one of you could tell us what he means.” “Surely Princess,” said one of the scholars, “but please do tell us what you meant by your signs.”

“All right,” said the Princess, “by lifting one finger, I indicated the all-pervading, omnipotent, ultimate nature of the Divine. But what did he mean by two fingers?”

“Princess,” said one of them, “Divinity also manifests in dualistic forms, such as right and wrong, high and low, truth and untruth, and so on…”

“Hmm… that is really good,” said the Princess. “When I raised three fingers, I was referring to the three GunasSattva, Rajas, and Tamas; the concept the three times – Past, Present, and Future; the three worlds – Heaven, Earth, and Hell; the three Divine functions – Creation, Maintenance, and Dissolution…”

“He responded with four,” said one scholar, “to indicate the four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva; the four directions – North, South, East, and West; the four divisions – Infancy, Youth, Maturity, and Old Age; the four stages of Brahmacharya (Studentship), Grahasta (Family life), Vanaprastha (Seclusion), and Sanyasa (Renunciation), and so on…”

“I fully agree with him,” said the lady happily. “By five fingers, I pointed out to the five elements – Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth; the five senses – Sight, Smell, Hearing, Taste and Touch.”

“He responded,” said a pundit, “with the six hurdles to Enlightenment – Desire, Distress, Miserliness, Jealousy, Anger, and Arrogance (the Arishadvargas). He also pointed to the Six virtues of Bliss such as Patience, Perseverance, Compassion, Courtesy, Love, and Laughter.”

“My word, he is really wise!” said the princess and the assembly echoed her words. “My basis for the seven fingers was the presence of Divinity in the Seven Great Saints (the Saptarishis); the Seven Seas; and the Seven Colors of the Rainbow.”

One of the Pundits said, “He revealed through the eight fingers the eight limbs of yoga (Ashta angas); eight types of wealth (Ashtalakshmi); the eight basic Afflictions, and so on.”

“When I lifted nine of my fingers, I was referring to the nine forms of the Mother Divine; the nine planets; the nine doors of the human body; the nine types of precious gems.”

“By showing all ten fingers – opening his hands completely,” said one Pundit, “he meant that the Divine is the substratum of the entire creation. The Divine is the one and only ultimate source and resource for everything. Amidst all the different functions and forms, diversity and divisions, the Divine is Sublime, Supreme and Single.”

“Such wonderful wisdom!” remarked the princess. “I bow to his superior knowledge. I have one last question, why did he cross both his hands, when I raised only one hand in question?”

“Oh! That is simple. Since he had to attend to his spiritual practices, he indicated that it was not the time to ask or to answer any more questions.”

“That settles it! I accept him as my husband,” said the princess. The scholars reveled in their mind, thinking that they had finally had their vengeance. Soon the marriage ceremonies were conducted, and the timid fool kept his mind shut till they were alone.

Soon enough, the intelligent lady found out that the extent of idiocy of her husband, and the extent of deceit played on her by the inimical scholars.

Instead of giving way to anger, anxiety, or animosity, she calmly pacified her fear-stricken husband, and advised him to go to the nearby temple of Divine Mother and sincerely pray for knowledge.

Without another word, the fool ran to the temple and offered truthful prayers to the Divine Mother and obtained Her blessings. He later became one of the greatest poets of ancient India.

He composed immortal classics in Sanskrit literature and was known as ‘Kali Dasa.’

This poignant story reveals the essence of ancient wisdom in India and explains the adage “Sarvam Brahma Mayam” meaning the Divine is everything and everywhere.

In one broad sweep, this attitude also accepts and accommodates all people into one large human family, under one umbrella of belongingness – a One World Family. This approach has been echoed by Saints throughout the ages, and more recently by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

This story was adapted from Acharya Ratnananda’s More Light on Less Known: Compassion, Courage, and Confidence, Volume 3