Peer-to-peer learning: An instance from the Ramacharitamanasa

According to the Ramacharitamanasa, when Garuda (eagle; Vishnu’s vehicle) helped Lord Rama in His divine play on earth by untying Him from a mystical weapon, he got doubtful about the divinity of Rama. He kept pondering that if Rama were the Absolute, why would He ever need any help from him. On seeing no end to this confusion, Garuda eventually reached Lord Shiva for help. All Shiva had to do was explain to him that Rama is the Absolute Reality and Rama’s maya is responsible for such divine plays. And Who could have been a better guru than Shiva – the Only One Who knows Rama. But in stead of resolving Garuda’s problem, Shiva prescribed a “long term satsang” with another bird named Kakbhushundi for the reason that “a bird can understand only what a bird says.”

This is an example where Shiva promotes peer-to-peer interaction in learning and clearance of doubts. We have better chances of learning from people we have faith in and who resemble us. In line with this logic, a saint understands what a saint says and entrepreneurs understand what their corporate community says. When we see people like ourselves, we open our mind to receiving data from them. The similarity of our experiences in a peer group can also enable better connectivity and information exchange between the ‘preacher’ and the ‘learner.’ This may also explain why Shiva rarely initiates us into spirituality Himself, but sends us to another human guru so that we can reach Him.

Indian Percussion: Can we play devotional music on the Tabla?

Many of you might have heard percussionists recite and play a Tabla composition, usually a sequence of diverse syllables aesthetically tied together in rhythm along with its speed variations. Like any other piece of music, for piano or vocal, every group of strokes on this instrument is reproducible and writable.

While any composition can be labeled ‘devotional’ if it is accompanied by the feel of bhakti, gurus have specified paths through which learners can explicitly combine spirituality with music. Just like a vocalist uses the lyrics of a bhajan to add in spirituality, a tabla or pakhawaj player can integrate spirituality in a presentation through a bol (stuti)-paran particularly composed for a specific form of God, such as a Krishna-paran or a Ganesh-paran.

In this percussion composition, phrases praising a form of God in Sanskrit (or Hindi) are inserted between the regular syllables of tabla. Once the syllables and Sanskrit words are blended harmoniously in the mind, tabla syllables that mimic the sound of the selected Sanskrit words are practiced. When the whole paran is put together in a recital, the mapped tabla syllables are played on the drums while concurrently pronouncing the Sanskrit words orally. As one may expect, new devotional parans are very rare, for they require some poetic skills in addition to the core curriculum.

Lastly, to play a perfect prayer on the Tabla, the maestro is expected to mentally focus on the form of God for which the composition has been created. This may be necessary to make the Divine a part of the audience.

Parenting with Truth: The legend of Vishnu-devotee Prahlada

Children have to be brought up in an atmosphere of truth. In a spiritual context, this may be more important than loving your kids. Communicating wrong information to children may temporarily disconnect them from reality, creating chaos in their mind. Even if you feed your children with accomplishments you never actualized, just to gain some praise from them, you may be hurting your children in the long run. In Vaishnava mythology, this is exactly what the asura king Hiranyakashipu tried to do with his son, Prahalada. He desired to establish a wrong notion in Prahalad’s mind that he was the supreme person (God), the controller of all worlds. And when his child negated him, the evil king tried to execute his son as a result of his false pride. Fortunately, Prahalad had already been enrolled by Lord Vishnu as one of His most preferred devotees and was protected again and again by the Lord Himself.

In the contemporary real world, because our teachings as parents may not be so ridiculous, the unfavorable consequences from improper guidance may take a long time to get noticed. Even if adding wrong information to a child’s database does not make a difference in the material world, full of competition and trickery, it may block access to the eternal source of truth to curtail his or her spiritual progress. And every child may not be as lucky as Prahalada.

Goddess Kali: The One beyond thought

Kali, the Goddess with the shine of a blue lotus, is the Energy of Shiva. She is the form of Brahman for which birth, aging, death, and regeneration – are merely dance steps.

If I got this right, the Yoga Vasishtha holds that the universe in Kali’s body resembles a reflection in a mirror; it is illusory and yet true for the one who believes it to be true. If this sounds too complicated, we can reread it in even simpler words: “Kali is everything.” To memorize this should be easy but to understand its depth may again take most of us more than a lifetime and a darshan, like the one Ramakrishna Paramhansa experienced.

Luckily, for the common person, there is even a simpler option: to admit that we know nothing about Her. In line with this feel, many devotees standing in front of Her idol are often heard saying, “Mother, we do not understand much, but we are in Your refuge. Could you please take care of us?” The good part about this popular feel is its honesty, for admitting our inability to know Her may be, at times, much closer to Brahman than believing that we in the process of understanding the Great Illusion. No matter which approach we choose to worship Her, the intellectual or the emotional, it is important to be true, especially when we are communicating with Someone beyond thought…and time.

Diwali Special: Making our wish list

Tomorrow is Diwali, the festival of lights, celebrated on the Amavasya of the lunar month Kartika. In the midst of all the lighting, fireworks, get-togethers, and the distribution of sweets, Lakshmi-puja will be the chief event of the evening. Whether we offer flowers, sweets, food, incense or light, some wishes may be present in our minds as we remember the Goddess on this occasion. While we can always make minor changes to our wish list later, what we pray for may sum up all the hopes we have accumulated for the coming New Year.

Just as a reminder, our wish list does not have to be entirely focused on stuff money can buy. How about including some instincts for goodness, some knowledge, some truthful fellow beings to interact with, some love in life, and some desires for ‘letting go’? And remember, She can always bestow upon us the most precious gift that exists: firm faith in Her spouse, Lord Vishnu.

However, if you opt for material wishes alone, don’t forget to get auspiciousness (read righteousness) linked with them. Vedic Astrology can also throw some insight on which areas of life have been traditionally linked with Goddess Lakshmi. Contrary to what one may expect, the areas associated with Lakshmi in the horoscope are not the artha houses, signifying wealth, employment and profession, but the dharma houses (fifth and ninth) which stand for areas like intellect, creativity, expression, luck, planning, higher learning and spirituality. Along these lines, from this day, we can make a resolution to label all sattvic inspirations in our life as ‘luck’. Starting the puja with remembrance of Lord Ganesha may ensure that the right words flow from our mind and mouth as we put our wish list before the Mother on the most auspicious Hindu festival.

Happy Diwali !

Lord Shiva: The Benevolent One

In his Vinay Patrika, Tulasidasa eulogizes Lord Shiva, the Lord of all, in a very distinctive tone. Basically, Lord Brahma, who authors everyone’s destiny, visits Shiva’s abode and offers his resignation to Goddess Parvati. He complaints that Shiva keeps playing with the karmic law to bestow boons upon His devotees. As a result of Shiva’s habit to grant, Brahma believes that he is forced to create heavens for individuals whose destiny does not allow delight for even a moment. Because Brahma cannot take it any more, he concludes, “Could you please authorize someone else to write destiny? I would rather live by alms.”

The unparalleled kindness of Lord Shiva is reiterated everywhere in the Epics and Puranas. In the Ramayana, in spite being Lord Rama’s Personal God and devotee as well, He grants boons to Ravana, who symbolizes evil. In the Mahabharata, while showering His love on Arjuna, who is struggling for being righteous, He does offer a boon to Jayadratha that is responsible for the demise of Arjuna’s son in the war. Numerous mythological events of this category echo why fathering the universe is difficult. Just because some of His kids could not turn out to be righteous, Shiva does not entirely turn down their prayers. Nonetheless, He always ensures the eventual victory of dharma through His manifestation as Vishnu.

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