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Gaṇeśa-tatva

‘Gaṇeśa’ the word paints the following picture in the canvas of the mind – An inexplicably lovely form with winnow-like ears swaying gaily, a handsome trunk resting resolutely in a bowl of ‘modakas,’ eyes the dais of mischief, and belly as rotund as can be! Celebrated variedly as Agrapūjya, Vināyaka, Ekadanta, Heramba, Vighneśvara, Gaṇapati, and so on, He occupies a very important place in the Hindu Pantheon. Two aspects of Gaṇeśa-tatva serve as the basis for His preeminence – Gaṇeśa is both ‘vighna-kartā’ (creator of obstacle) as well as ‘vighna-hartā’ (annihilator of obstacles!) Any endeavor, even of the other manifestations of Gods, reaches fruition only by the grace of Gaṇeśa, and the undoing of any endeavor too is owing to His grace alone. The Nyāyendu-śekhara states,

अप्यन्यामरमारिराधयिषतां यत्पादपङ्केरुह-
द्वन्द्वाराधनमन्तरायहतये कार्यं त्ववश्यं विदुः।
तद्धेतोरिति नीतिवित्तु भजते देवं यमेकं परं
सर्वार्थप्रतिपादनैकचतुरो द्वैमातुरोऽव्यात्स नः॥

apyanyāmaramārirādhayiṣatāṁ yat-pāda-paṅkeruha-
dvandvārādhanam-antarāya-hataye kāryaṁ tvavaśyaṁ viduḥ|
taddhetor-iti nīti-vit-tu bhajate devaṁ yam-ekaṁ paraṁ
sarvārtha-pradipādanaika-caturo dvaimāturo’vyāt-sa naḥ||

The twin lotuses of His feet, even those desirous of adoring other manifestations of Gods resort to.

Hence do the wise celebrate Him as the peerless Supreme, the patron of all ends. May He,

Dvaimātura (Son to two mothers*, Gaṇeśa,) bless us.

The following Purāṇic anecdotes attest to Gaṇeśa’s roles as vighna-kartā and vighna-hartā, respectively.

The Mudgala-purāṇa relates the following anecdote. Once, Indra’s svarga-loka (heaven) became over-populated. Every soul that discarded the mortal-coils was given admittance to svarga-loka, and Yama’s Naraka (hell) lay empty. Indra was alarmed. He appealed to Lord Śiva most humbly, ‘Lord, not a single soul is being sent to naraka any longer. They all throng svarga. Admitting just one more soul into svarga will mean I may be displaced. Kindly intervene and send only the deserving souls to svarga.’ Lord Śiva responded, ‘Indra I am powerless to transgress the Divine Edict that whom-so-ever may step foot inside the temple of Somanatha will be afforded admittance to svarga. Parvatī is an adept in finding solutions to tricky situations such as these. Appeal to Her.’ Indra did as bade and Parvatī blessed Indra with a beautiful Boy fashioned out of the paste of Her body. She said to Him, ‘This handsome one will serve as the vighna-kartā (creator of obstacles) to those who have not qualified to attain to svarga!’

The second Purāṇic anecdote is as follows –

Once, Lord Śiva set out to destroy the tripuras (city-triad,) mounting His formidable chariot. The Three cities could only be destroyed by a single arrow that pierced through them all, and that could be achieved only when the three cities aligned in a row. Such an alignment was to occur only once in a thousand celestial years, and that time was now at hand. Intent upon the task at hand Lord Śiva rode forth in grave solemnity. All of a sudden, the peg of His chariot-wheel came undone! The all-knowing Śiva recognized the origin of this impediment. He had failed to seek Gaṇeśa’s grace for the endeavor at hand. He returned to seek the blessings of His son, vighna-hartā and succeeded in His cosmic endeavor.

Gaṇeśa is thus the composite of all auspiciousness (maṇgala-mūrti,) owing to His twin role as the destroyer of evil and the facilitator of the good. Gāṇāpatya treatise that adore Gaṇeśa as the Supreme personality describe Him as svānanda, as he embodies bliss. Personified, He is said to recline in an ocean of sugarcane juice, bestowing untold bliss on His devotees.

* Two different explanations are given regarding this particular appellation of Gaṇeśa. One Purāṇic account holds that Pārvatī is one mother while the elephant that afforded Gaṇeśa His head, is the other mother. Yet another account considers both Pārvatī and Gaṅgā to be Gaṇeśa mothers. He is as a result, referred to as Dvaimātura.
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Prāṇāyāma — the means to attain serenity of the mind!

Prāṇāyāma is one of the eight limbs of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga, as propounded by Sage Patañjali. The word itself, is a compound word comprised of two Sanskrit words, prāṇa and āyāma. The words are loosely translated to life-breath (prāṇa) and elongation/control (‘āyāma.) Several explanations are offered in the Upaniṣads and Purāṇas, for the word ‘Prāṇa.’ Amongst the senses attached to this word are vital breath, energy, and embodiment of the Supreme. The Liṅga Purāṇa explains the word prāṇa as the vital breath that resides in the body – ‘प्राणः स्वदेहजो वायुः.’

The Nirvāṇa Prakaraṇa of Yogavāsiṣṭa states,

प्राणोऽयमनिशं ब्रह्मन्स्पन्दशक्तिः सदागतिः।
स बाह्याभ्यन्तरे देहे प्राणोऽयमुपरि स्थितः॥

prāṇo’yamaniśaṃ brahmanspandaśaktiḥ sadāgatiḥ।
sa bāhyābhyantare dehe prāṇo’yamupari sthitaḥ॥

[Yogavāsiṣṭa, 6.25.3]

That which moves incessantly within and without is Prāna. Within, it animates the body it pervades.

The word ‘āyāma’ means restraint or elongation. The Nārada Purāṇa states, ‘prāṇa is the vital breath that rests within the body, and the control of this breath is known as āyāma – प्राणो वायुः शरीरस्थ आयामस्तस्य निग्रहः।‘

The Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa summarizes the significance of Prāṇāyāma thus –

The Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa explains the significance of Prāṇāyāma as:

यथा पर्वतधातूनां ध्मातानां दह्यते मलम् ।
तथेन्द्रियकृता दोषा दह्यन्ते प्राणनिग्रहात् ॥

yathā parvatadhātūnāṃ dhmātānāṃ dahyate malam ।
tathendriyakṛtā doṣā dahyante prāṇanigrahāt ॥

[Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa, 30.10]

Just as metallic ore is purified to metal upon smelting, so too is man purified of impurities arising from absorption in the senses by the practice of Prāṇāyāma.

Maharṣi Patañjali states in his Yoga Sūtras, ‘with the proper practice of Prāṇāyāma that culminates in the utmost suspension of breath, the Yogi’s mind becomes free of wavering thoughts. He recognizes the pristine nature of the mind.’ With continued practice, Maharṣi concludes,

ततः क्षीयते प्रकाशावरणम् ।

tataḥ kṣīyate prakāśāvaraṇam।[2.52]

the veil which obscures the light of discerning knowledge is lifted.

P.S: It is advisable to practice Prāṇāyāma under the guidance of a spiritual master.

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How does one control the mind?

The human mind is notorious for its fickleness. So much so, it has earned itself the moniker ‘monkey-mind!’ Much like sand held in a tight fist or water borne in a cloth, the mind races, leaving man baffled. It engages with objects of the world, leaping from object to object with lightning speed. It embraces that which it mustn’t and relinquishes easily, that it shall do well to dwell on. Summarily, the human mind is an intractable mystery. Yet, our Scriptures exhort that it is only by the taming of the monkey-mind that man may progress. They speak endlessly of the immense possibilities of the stilled-mind. Summarizing the seemingly impossible task, Arjun states in the Bhagavadgītā,

चंचलं हि मनः कृष्ण प्रमाथि बलवद्दृढम्।
तस्याहं निग्रहं मन्ये वायोरिव सुदुष्करम् ॥

caṃcalaṃ hi manaḥ kṛṣṇa pramāthi balavaddṛḍham।
tasyāhaṃ nigrahaṃ manye vāyoriva suduṣkaram ॥

“O Kṛṣṇa! Indeed, the mind is fickle, turbulent, strong and obstinate. It appears to me that controlling it is as difficult as controlling the wind.”

Kṛṣṇa offers a simple solution.

असंशयं महाबाहो मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम्।
अभ्यासेनतु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते॥

asaṃśayaṃ mahābāho mano durnigrahaṃ calam।
abhyāsenatu kaunteya vairāgyeṇa ca gṛhyate॥
[The Bhagavad Gītā, 6: 34, 35]

“O mighty son of Kuntī! The mind is undoubtedly fickle and difficult to control, yet it can be controlled by practice and detachment.”

The inherent nature of the mind is such that it attaches itself to the senses. It identifies with the emotions of pleasure and pain. It courts the pleasurable and shuns the unsavory. Man gains mastery over the mind when he detaches himself from pain and pleasure, treating both with equanimity. Such detachment proceeds from discernment of the eternal and the ephemeral. When the mind is trained to treat sorrow and pleasures as passing clouds, the mind grows accustomed to identifying less with the passing emotions thus caused. When the mind is repeatedly refocused on the higher force that pervades all, a dispassionate force that lies within merely a witness to everything, the mind dawns to a stillness. When thus stilled, the mind allows for the experience of man’s true nature.