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Diwali: Celebrating the Darshan of Sita-Rama

In the treta yuga, the people of Ayodhya celebrated their first Diwali on Sri Sita-Rama’s return to their hometown from Lanka. The lighting of lamps on this occasion was subsequently followed by the darshan of Rama. In our age, we can view this popular festival as an opportunity to welcome Sita-Rama in our lives. It reminds us that by dispelling darkness from our mind, we too can be blessed with the darshan and refuge of Rama.

It is not surprising that Diwali follows Dusshera, the victory of dharma, and is a bigger festival than Dusshera. If Dusshera is the defeat of unrighteousness, Diwali signifies the Rama’s revelation to the jiva. Interestingly, the face-to-face meeting of Ayodhya’s subjects with their ideal king and an incarnation of God was the result of fourteen years of longing — a kind of God’s remembrance. This tells us something about the natural sequence of events in devotion: Remembrance and alignment with dharma are the precursors to God’s darshan, which is a major aim of devotional spirituality.

Once a jiva who adores the Lord sees him, separation again from the Divine may not be possible. According to the Adhyatama Ramayana, the residents of Ayodhya became so attached to Rama that they never separated after celebrating their first Diwali. When Rama completed his divine play on Earth and left for his abode, Saket Dham, all his subjects and beings who were devoted to him, except Lord Hanuman, Vibhishan, and Jambvant — the immortal beings — renounced their bodies and were guided to the higher worlds (lokas). Hanuman was instructed to remain on Earth so that he could guide humanity towards Rama.

On the auspicious festival of Diwali, Sita Devi is also worshipped in her aspect as Mother Goddess Lakshmi, the mother of the universe. In our prayers, we can request Devi Sita for granting us bhakti — and the desire for letting go. She can always bestow upon us one of the most precious gifts that exist: firm trust in Rama. Surrender to Sita-Rama, who transcend nature, may ensure that the right words flow from our mind and mouth as we put our wish list before God on one of the most auspicious festivals of the globe.

(Content for this post was mainly derived from a previous post on this blog.)

Renunciation by King Janaka

Once upon a time, Janaka, the king of Mithila, became disinterested in worldly affairs. After some serious contemplation, he informed his wife, ”I no longer feel interested in materialism. I am planning to hand over the crown to someone else and move to the forest.” His wife, the wise Sunaina Devi, took Janaka to the balcony of their palace and asked him to take a look at the people, standing in a queue near the base of the palace, who were obtaining free food from the royal kitchen.

Sunaina said, ”Renunciation is always a good idea. But the next king may not be as compassionate as you are. Your decision may hurtfully affect the lives of all the people who depend on your presence today. Besides, renunciation may have multiple variants. You may leave home and wander all around the world, searching for self-realization. Or you may choose to stay at home and renounce the whole world; your own desires and distractions may be blocking your spiritual growth, not your family and home.” Janaka chose to stay at home. With time, he became a seer himself, while successfully carrying out the responsibilities of a king. Janaka’s spiritual evolution set an example, for ages to come, around how human beings can finely harmonize virtues and duties with self-realization.

Understanding Oneness

If we are all connected to the same Divine, why do we appear to be different? Does Nature play a role in creating our differences? To find out, please read my new article in the Speaking Tree section of the Economic Times (July 27, 2020).

You can right click on the image below and select “View Image” to read the article.

The five philosophies of Vedanta

Given below is an elementary introduction to the five different philosophies of Vedanta [1].

Advaita (by Sri Adi Shankaracharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of the same material; the universe is unreal. The events of the physical universe are like waves rising from an ocean, symbolizing Brahman. Spiritual knowledge is usually defined as the realization of our oneness with God and causes liberation [2].

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Visistadvaita (by Sri Ramanujacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of different material. God resides within each individual being as the antaryami {in-dweller). Spiritual knowledge refers to the realization that our soul is eternally dependent on God, who is the sole reason of our existence. Bhakti of God is the way to liberation.

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Dvaita (by Sri Madhavacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of different material. Individual soul is dependent on God. Bhakti gives grace of God and liberation. To take an analogy, the soul and God are like sand and water; just like sand settles at the bottom of water, the individual soul reaches the lotus feet of God.

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Dvaitadvaita (by Sri Nimbarkacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are simultaneously different and not different. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan explains in Indian Philosophy (Vol. 2), the individual souls are different from Brahman as their attributes are different; they are not different from Brahman as they are dependent on God.

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Shuddhadvaita (by Sri Vallabhacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of the same material in reality. World appears as Brahman to the realized. Bhakti and grace of God are necessary for liberation.

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Notes

[1] Note that there exists a difference between the Vedantic schools and the Vedantic philosophies. When counting the different schools of Vedanta, many recent academic papers often ignore the Ramanandi Vaishnava school, which is the most impactful devotional school of North India. The Ramacharitamansa, written by Goswami Tulasidasa, a member of this school, involves an amalgation of Advaita-Dvaita-Visistadvaita, which I have already talked about in this post. As Saint Kabirdasa of this school puts it, devotion is about the four letters of love, not about philosophies and complex theories.

[2] You can read more about liberation in this blog post.

Connecting to Lord Rama

Chanting Ramanama, the name of Rama, is a very simple and effective method to connect to Lord Rama (God). Sometimes, chanting Ramanama for a few minutes (with a devotional feel) is better than chanting for half an hour. In the beginning, there is no need to aim for long periods of time. Once interest develops and if our health permits, the duration of worship can be increased.

Reading, listening to pravachan (discourses), and listening to bhajans (devotional songs) are also forms of bhakti and complement chanting and praying to God very well. As for which books to study, we have to be very careful. Some books by today’s authors may be very nicely written but may totally lack spiritual connectivity; they may, in fact, disconnect us from God. Reading books by saints or devotional writers is a safe bet. My top suggestions are the Ramacharitamanasa and the Hanuman Chalisa.

Lord Hanuman, the top devotee of Lord Rama, likes connecting jivas (individual beings) to Rama — the Supreme God. Accordingly, Hanuman is the ultimate guru and savior for all devotees of Rama. We can request Lord Hanuman directly to guide us towards Lord Rama. We can just talk to Lord Hanuman as we would talk to a guru. Lord Hanuman and Lord Rama always listen to us.

Learning about Hinduism: Avoiding modern-day obstacles

Because of the social-political changes within India over the last century, today’s Hindus have more choices than before. This is particularly true for the Hindus of India, the country where Hindu thought has mainly flourished over the ages. These choices — freedom to think and act — were not present for Hindus between 1200 and 1947, when most Hindus were under brute foreign-colonial rule. Also, Hinduism has become a global religion, and Hindus of non-Indian origin also have the freedom and responsibility to contribute to Hindu thought. Accordingly, decisions that today’s Hindus make are important and will have their own importance in history.

Though Hinduism’s democratic flavor and its dynamic knowledge base are among the strengths of the religion, these strengths can become dangers if they are misused. They can become dangerous if followers start dumping everything that comes to their mind to the domain of Hindu thought. We must understand that in the past, over millenniums, Hindu scriptures were developed by God-inspired and God-realized human beings, whom we revere as saints and sages. Today, even non-believers and non-seekers have freedom to express their views loudly through their writings and talks. In this situation, we will have to learn to be selective in what we absorb. We can sometimes ignore the non-devotional individuals, no matter how intellectual they appear to be, who tend to pull Hindu thought in the wrong direction — away from its God-centricity.

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