The Matsya Avatar: Lord Vishnu’s first visit to earth

Just like Pisces concludes the zodiac for a new beginning, the fish (matsya) incarnation enabled the smooth transition of life from the last aeon (kalpa; one day of Brahma) to the current one. When the world was nearing an end and the continents began to submerge in water, the Lord, Who is present in all beings, incarnated as a huge fish to protect the devotee king Satyavrat and the seven sages along with cellular life and the seeds of agricultural plants. According to the Srimad Bhagavat Purana, as the ‘fish’ steered their ship, which was tied to it, to safety, the Lord gave the passengers onboard a discourse on the eternal yogas through which God can be reached. Additionally, the incarnation annihilated an asura, a symbol of ignorance, who had stolen Vedic knowledge from Brahma when he was about to call it a day and returned the knowledge to him as soon as he awakened.

Indian mythology and astrological symbology join hands to link Vishnu’s fish incarnation (avatar) to pure spirituality. Strong support comes from Parashara who correlates the energies of ketu (moon’s south node) with that of the fish incarnation of the Lord. Because ketu is the planet of spirituality – the ‘moksha-karaka’ in Vedic astrology, this energy matching intrinsically associates matsya with liberation and the loss of our sense of self. Moreover Pisces (fishes), being the last sign of the moksha-trine, stands for the dissolution (water) of the ego in both Vedic and Western astrology.

On the whole, this incarnation restores Brahma’s knowledge at the start of his new day, protects and transports vegetation and cellular life forms for the new world, and transfers knowledge to Satyavrata, a newly initiated disciple who is later reborn as Manu, the first human being in the new cycle of life on earth. The fish further secures spirituality in the modern world by leaving the knowledge of yoga with the seven sages (sapta rishi) of the Big Dipper who hold this light for everyone to this moment.

Infinite Bliss from Music: The Nada-Brahman Principle

We can use music as a means to reach God by forgetting ourselves as we sing hymns, mantras, and the names of our favorite form of the Lord. In devotional music, including bhajans and kirtans, this spiritual connection remains the objective. But what about the non-emotional musicians who solely worship music? They too can obtain the highest levels of ecstasy that comes not from the mood of the raga, nor from the proper application of notes, and nor from the rhythm, but comes from considering musical sound as God according to the notion of Nada-Brahman.

When the musician recognizes this oneness, which occurs after all early levels of perfection in technique and expression have been transcended, music becomes joy, not the means for joy. At this point, the sound of a melody from a string instrument no longer appears sweeter than the stroke of a percussion instrument, for both are musical sounds and accordingly forms of the Divine. Similarly, devotional lyrics are no longer needed for the connection. They are useful only until a duality in musical notes and God is present. When musical notes become Brahman and represent His sound, there is no other God to connect to.

At this stage in music, which appears plainly theoretical to most of us, one can say that perfection in music has been achieved. Just like the devotee musician who forgets oneself in the memory of the Lord while performing, the advaitist worshipper of music forgets oneself in music to remember nothing but music. While one at this spiritual or musical plane may no longer be fit for entertaining fellow beings on a big podium, it fulfills what the Indian tradition anticipates from a ‘seeker of music’ as opposed to a ‘learner’ or ‘creator’ of music: finding God while finding music.

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.

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