M. Shri

Lord Brahma’s first experience with meditation

In Vaishnava theology, Lord Vishnu manifests Lord Brahma from His navel so that Brahma may create the universe. According to the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, the first day of Brahma, which he experiences in the ‘latent universe’, or whatever you call it, is not a smooth day. Following his birth on a lotus, floating on water, connected by a stem to Lord Vishnu’s navel, Brahma sees only a few things around himself: the lotus, water, space, and air. Brahma, who is born with the knowledge of the Vedas, starts introspecting, “Who am I, sitting on this lotus?” He begins the day by searching for the origin of the stem that supports his lotus but is unsuccessful; the stem beneath the water is just too long.

Finally, he opts for meditation – the solution of all problems for seekers of knowledge. After a hundred years of yoga (his ‘year’ is apparently longer than ours), Brahma, in his mind, sees Lord Vishnu lying on his eternal serpent bed, perceives the origin of the stem that connects his lotus, and gains knowledge about the Lord.

With some uncertainty still present, Brahma sings praise for the Lord. Vishnu appears and instructs him to meditate again so that all the necessary information for getting started on universal creation can be transferred. As Brahma follows this instruction, he sees the sketch of the universe in his mind and then observes the Lord pervading all the worlds and his own self as well. Similarly, he perceives his own presence, along with that of the universe, within Lord Vishnu. This is all that he needs to manifest the universe. And in the process of introducing the universe, he launches the tradition of meditation.

Spiritual Houses in a Vedic Astrological Chart

In a Vedic horoscope, the houses (and signs) of the dharma trine (trikona) and the moksha trine stand for spirituality and religion. While the signs numbered 5 and 9 signify dharma, the signs of the zodiac numbered 4, 8, and 12 represent our attraction to liberation. Because every house or sign of the natural zodiac has a distinct meaning, it is supposed to impart its characteristic flavor to how we approach spirituality – what spirituality means to us.

If our spirituality involves an emotional relationship or the love of God along with creative inspirations, we are talking about the fifth house or Leo (simha)-type spirituality. If we prefer righteousness, the traditional paths, and tutelage under a guru, it represents the ninth house or Sagittarius (dhanu)-flavored approach. If our faith is about seeking happiness, finding peace in the world, or caring for humanity, it is a fourth house or Cancer (karka)-type instinct. Similarly, if our approach involves logical investigation (research), a desire for divine powers (siddhi), or engagement in occult as we transform, it represents the spirituality of the eighth house (scorpio-type; vrischika). And when we aspire to become a renunciate meditating calmly in the Himalayas, we are talking about the twelfth house or Pisces (meena)-type spirituality.

As one may guess, the spiritual flavors of Sagittarius and Pisces, when positively activated, are the most potent as they are the concluding signs of the dharma and moksha trines, respectively, and are both lorded by Jupiter, who represents the blessings of the guru.

During a holistic look at the interactions between the planets, signs, houses, significators, and the harmonic charts, professionals use the abovementioned astrological flavors (and many more) to predict which spiritual path is predominant in a chart.

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.

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