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Significance of a Guru

Learning any skill is contingent upon us finding a guide who is capable of taking us under their wings, and inspiring us to find the truth we seek. In the world of spirituality where lesson that are learned are not physical but metaphysical, not tangible but intangible, the role of the guide becomes even more significant. In the spiritual path, a disciple is often times unaware of what he wants, and is therefore incapable of achieving his end without the grace of an able guide. Traditionally, two terms are attached to such a guide – ‘Guru’ and ‘Ācārya’. Tradition defines the two as follows –

गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारः स्याद्रुशब्दस्तन्निरोधकः।
अन्धकारनिरोधित्वाद्गुरुरित्यभिधीयते॥

guśabdastvandhakāraḥ syādruśabdastannirodhakaḥ|
andhakāranirodhitvādgururityabhidhīyate||

The Letter ‘gu’ denotes darkness of ignorance, and the letter ‘ru’, its defier. He who stall the march of ignorance is called a ‘Guru’.

आचिनोति हि शास्त्राणि आचारे स्तापयत्यपि।
स्वयमाचरते यस्मातमाचार्यं प्रचक्षते॥

ācinoti hi śāstrāṇi ācāre stāpayatyapi|
svayamācarate yasmātamācāryaṁ pracakṣate||

An Ācārya is one who incessantly engages with the scriptures, ever lives by the dictates of the scriptures, and inspires the disciple to live by them as well.

Rāmānujācārya was one such exemplary Ācārya. In Uraiyūr, a town neighboring the sacred kṣetra of Śrīraṅgam, lived a wrestler named Dhanurdāsar. He was a wrestler in the King’s court and was married to the lovely Ponnāciyār. His immense might, wealth and glory notwithstanding, he was enslaved by the loveliness of his wife. One day, he accompanied his wife to Śrīraṅgam. With one hand he held aloft a parasol to protect his wife from the scorching sun, and with the other, he spread out a carpet for the delicate feet of his wife to tread on. Swami Rāmājunan happened to notice this, as he proceeded along the road along with his disciples. He was taken aback that a man would be so enamoured with a woman. He chuckled aloud for Dhanurdāsar to hear.

Dhanurdāsar was oblivious to the reaction of the world around. His eyes were peeled to the darting eyes of his gorgeous wife. Swami Rāmānuja was moved to compassion. The Yatirāja (king amongst ascetics) approached Dhanurdāsar of his own accord and asked him, “you are a mighty wrestler, well-renowned and wealthy. Why do you enslave yourself thus, dear man?” Dhanurdāsar responded, “of what use is my might, revered sire? I have nothing in my arsenal that can match the might of my wife’s arching brows and the sharp shafts of her darting eyes! In reality, there is nothing upon this earth that can rival her dancing eyes.” Swami Rāmānujan recognized just how firmly the shackles of materialism bound Dhanurdāsar. He smiled indulgently and said, “what if I were to show you a pair of eyes that far exceed in loveliness, the eyes of your wife?” Without a second thought Dhanurdāsar said, “that is impossible”. Swami Rāmānujan responded, “what if I did?” An intrigued Dhanurdāsar responded, “I shall concede defeat in that case, and surrender to you as your slave.”

Swami Rāmānujan lead Dhanurdāsar straight to the sanctum sanctorum of Śrīraṅganātha. He stood Dhanurdāsar before the Lord and said to him, “behold, Dhanurdāsa, at the pair of lotus-eyes that is unparalleled in its excellence”. The Ācārya had not only recognized what Dhanurdāsar needed, but was willing to go the extra mile in reaching Dhanurdāsar to the destination he did not even know existed. Moreover, he blessed Dhanurdāsa with the vision required to behold the loveliness that was the eyes of the Supreme Lord. Dhanurdāsa’s eyes were now able to grasp the ethereal beauty of the Lord. He stood transfixed in what he beheld before him. As promised, he conceded defeat and surrendered at the lotus-feet of Swami Rāmānujan. Ponnāciyār too recognized the worth of such an Ācārya and surrendered along with her husband. The grateful couple renounced all their wealth and belongings, and moved to Śrīraṅgam so that they may serve the compassionate Ācārya, who has blessed them with the vision to differentiate the eternal truth from fleeting samsāra (materialism). Dhanurdāsar served Swami Rāmānujan with such care that he did not sleep on many occasions. He became Pillai-Uraṅgā-Villidāsar (he who did not sleep) from then. The grace of the Ācārya had transformed him from one who was deep asleep with ignorance to one who was ever wakeful to the Supreme Truth.

गुरौ न प्राप्यते यत्तन्नान्यत्रापि हि लभ्यते।
गुरुप्रसादात्सर्वं तु प्राप्नोत्येव न संशयः॥

gurau na prāpyate yattannānyatrāpi hi labhyate|
guruprasādātsarvaṁ tu prāpnotyeva na saṁśayaḥ||

That which is not found in the Guru, is found nowhere else. One can achieve everything by the grace of the Guru is beyond a shred of doubt.

Skāndapurāṇa

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Arrogance – Lack of True Perception

Much is spoken of arrogance and about how man is best served when arrogance is given up. What exactly is arrogance and why must it be eschewed? In simple terms, arrogance may be summarized as the false perception of one’s superiority that is combined with the inability to acknowledge quality in others. In a single swoop, the arrogant misjudge their abilities as well as those of the others. Yogic texts pin arrogance down to a single lacuna – namely the non-identification with the higher self or the Supreme. In other words, when one fails to identify with one’s true self, he or she also fails to recognize that all of creation is but a reflection of the Divine Spark.
Running parallel to the non-identification with the Supreme is the identification with the fleeting, which results in man mistaking the ephemeral for the eternal. Arrogance originates from the misconception that man’s possessions are eternal, when in reality they are temporary. Man believes that the knowledge he seemingly possesses, the wealth that is his for the time-being, or the prowess of his limbs are his eternally. He prides himself as unparalleled, and is swept off his feet, little realizing that all he possesses is but fleeting in nature. This ignorance results in arrogance, and translates to cruelty and pettiness in deeds and demeanor. Unless arrogance is quelled, man cannot rise to the summit of perfection, for perfection lies in the recognition of a higher self.
Avatāras descend in order to establish order and to provide man with an exemplar of a perfect life. In their infinite compassion, avatāras enact līlās that explicate to man, how life situations are to be dealt with. Though above attributes and desires, avatāras adorn them in līlās in order to teach man how to rise above them. One such līlā described in the Śivamahāpurāṇa elaborates how the Supreme Lord extinguishes arrogance and helps identify the essential unity in creation. It must be borne in mind here, that avatāras enact līlās and do not identify with materialistic emotions and desires.
At the beginning of creation, Lord Viṣṇu and Lord Brahmā found themselves in an argument over who was superior. Lord Brahmā proclaimed, ‘The Vedas proclaim me to be the self-born Supreme. I am the essence of the universe and its creator.’ Lord Viṣṇu countered, ‘There is no creator, sustainer or annihilator superior to me. I am the supreme light, the all-pervasive Supreme that lies within each atom of creation.’ As they battled on thus for superiority, a liṅgam of blinding brilliance appeared between them. The endless column of light was so spectacular in its appearance, both Lord Brahmā and Lord Viṣṇu were struck with wonder. They decided to put the liṅgam to the test. Lord Viṣṇu assumed the form of a wild boar and set out to find the base of the liṅgam, while Lord Brahmā assumed the form of a swan and soared up, seeking to identify the end of the liṅgam. Thousands of cosmic years rolled by, and yet neither succeeded in the task they set out to complete. Exhausted and humbled, Lord Brahmā and Lord Viṣṇu began glorifying the liṅgam thus, ‘O Supreme One, we are ignorant of Thy true form. Accept our supplication and reveal Thyself.’
Pleased with the eulogy, the Supreme One made Himself visible to Lord Brahmā and Lord Viṣṇu. The two were delighted to behold the saguṇa (attributes) of the nirguṇa (attributeless) Brahman. The Supreme One them crafted the four Vedas from His breath and handed them over to Lord Viṣṇu. He said to Lord Brahmā, ‘unite with the aspect of Prakṛti known as Girādevī (Goddess of speech) and engage in creation.’ Turning to Lord Viṣṇu said the Lord, ‘Take the aspect of Prakṛti called Lakṣmī as your consort and sustain the universe. I, as Rudra, shall resort to the aspect of Prakṛti called Kālī and shall attend to the noble deed of annihilation. It is I who am known by the names of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Rudra owing to the three kinds of actions I engage in during creation, sustenance and annihilation. The wise recognize that (I am like) a single sheet of gold that produces various ornaments, but is essentially the same. A single lump of clay produces various pots. Celestials endowed with superior intellect as yourselves must recognize the underlying reality of all creation.’

यदैकस्या मृदो भेदे नानापात्राणि वस्तुतः।
कारणस्यैव कार्ये च सन्निधानं निदर्शनम्॥

yadaikasyā mṛdo bhede nānāpātrāṇi vastutaḥ|
kāraṇasyaiva kārye ca sannidhānaṁ nidarśanam||

Śivamahāpurāṇam, Sṛṣṭi-khaṇḍa, 9.36

ज्ञातव्यं बुधवर्यैश्च निर्मलज्ञानिभिः सुरैः।
एवं ज्ञात्वा भवद्भ्यां तु न दृश्यं भेद कारणम्॥

jñātavyaṁ budhavaryaiśca nirmalajñānibhiḥ suraiḥ|

evaṁ jñātvā bhavadbhyāṁ tu na dṛśyaṁ bheda kāraṇam||

Śivamahāpurāṇam, Sṛṣṭi-khaṇḍa, 9.37

With these words, the Supreme One rendered himself invisible. Lord Brahmā and Lord Viṣṇu recognized their folly in giving in to pride and arguing who was superior. They recognized themselves to be but a reflection of the Supreme, created by His sheer will, and resorted to their respective realms with humility and wisdom.

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Wisdom – Fruit of Ardor and Perseverance

It is common knowledge that anything valuable can only be acquired through perseverance and sincere yearning or ardor. When this is the case with common materialistic pursuits, it is all the more so with the acquisition of Divine Wisdom. The Kaṭopaniṣad relates the anecdote of Naciketā to explicate how ardor and perseverance can result in redeeming knowledge of the Self. 

There was once a brāhmaṇa by name Vājaśravasa who gave away his possessions with the desire to acquire merit (puṇya). His young son, Naciketā, a precocious child, noticed his father giving away a wealth of cows that no longer yielded milk. Recognizing no merit can accrue from the donation of unproductive cows, the boy importuned his father repeatedly, ‘Whom will you give me away to, father?’ Irate with the boy the father exclaimed, ‘Unto Death I give you!’ Naciketā left for the abode of Yama resolutely, with the following words – ‘Like corns mortals ripen and fall; like corn they rise again.’

Reaching Yama’s abode, Naciketā waited for three days and nights before the Lord of death returned. Even as he entered, a voice resounded in the background, ‘When a spiritual guest enters the house like a bright flame, he must be well received. Those inhospitable to such guests lose all merit (puṇya).’ The Lord of death recognized the inadvertent folly of not welcoming Naciketā as was customary. Yama granted three boons to Naciketā as atonement; a boon for each inhospitable night he had to stand in wait, expecting Yama to return. Naciketā sought with the first boon, that his father’s anger be appeased and that his father receives him with love upon his return to earth. After being granted the boon, Naciketā sought with the second, to learn from Yama, the fire sacrifice that bestows heaven upon the performer. Yama taught the sacrifice to Naciketā as requested. Pleased with the lad’s repetition of the sacred hymns taught to him, the Lord of death conferred a special boon on the boy. He stated, ‘the fire sacrifice shall now be known by your name, child.’ 

Urged by Yama to lay claim to his third boon, Naciketā stated, ‘When a person dies, some state he still exists while others claim he doesn’t. I wish to know the truth behind death – the secret of death.’ Yama responded, ‘The secret of death is one that has baffled even the celestials of yore. Seek of me anything else.’ Naciketā persisted, ‘The secret baffles even the celestials for it is hard to know. I see no boon worthier of having, and no teacher wiser than yourself.’ 

Hesitant to unravel the mystery behind death, Yama endeavored to entice Naciketā with several other boons. He stated, ‘Seek stupendous wealth; seek to be an emperor; seek every pleasure the earth can offer; seek women of unmatched beauty; seek to live as long as you desire; seek sons and grandsons who live a hundred years; seek anything else you desire. Seek not the mystery behind death.’

Naciketā responded, ‘Pleasures of the senses are fleeting, as is life upon earth. What good does stupendous wealth do me when I know I will face you sooner or later? It is the mystery of death I desire to have unraveled. I seek no other boon.’ Immensely pleased with the lad’s ardor and perseverance, the Lord of death proceeds to enlighten Naciketā. He said, ‘I spread before you, the fulfillment of all worldly desires; the power to dominate the earth; delights beyond imagination; you parry these with determination. I see the gates of bliss opening for you, Naciketā.’ The Lord of death then proceeded to reveal the mystery behind the phenomenon called death. He elaborated, ‘hidden in the heart of every creature lies the omniscient Self that is never born, nor will ever die. The Self is eternal and immutable. It is beyond name and form; beyond the senses and time. Those who realize the Self are eternally freed from the jaws of death. Awaken; seek the guidance of an illumined Guru and realize the Self.’ 

Thus, with ardor and perseverance Naciketā received wisdom from Yama; wisdom that had baffled even the celestials for ages. Though the Lord of death tempted the lad with many an enticing materialistic pleasure, Naciketā’s resolve was unflappable. With determination he achieved what he had set his heart upon. 

रत्नैर्महार्हैस्तुतुषुर्न देवाः न भेजिरे भीमविषेण भीतिम्।
सुधां विना न प्राप्नुयुर्विरामं न निश्चितार्थाद्विरमन्ति धीराः॥

ratnairmahārhaistutuṣurna devāḥ na bhejire bhīmaviṣeṇa bhītim|
sudhāṁ vinā na prāpnuyurvirāmaṁ na niścitārthādviramanti dhīrāḥ||

The celestials were neither jubilant by the precious stones the (churning of the milky ocean offered them), nor were they daunted by emergence of the exceptionally venemous hālāhala (upon churning the ocean). They rested not until ambrosia was theirs, for the resolute do not give up on the object they have set their minds on.

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Attachment – The Supreme Trap

The Supreme Trap

Uddhavagītā is a section of the eleventh canto of the Śrīmadbhāgavata. The section that describes Bhāgavatadharma or the code of conduct recommended for the sincere seeker. The section unravels as a dialogue exchanged between Uddhava and Kṛṣṇa, towards the end of the avatāra. The earthly mission that the Lord had intended to accomplish during His sojourn at earth was at an end. The celestials who had descended upon earth in order to serve the Lord too needed to return to their celestial duties. The līlā of annihilation of the Yadu clan was therefore conceived of, employing the curse of the sages as a ruse. Troubled by the turmoil of strife, Uddhava resorted to the presence of the Lord, seeking counsel. The dialogue that ensued between them spans twenty-three chapters of the eleventh canto of the Bhāgavata (7th-29th chapters).

In the avadhūta-upākhyāna, the Lord relates an anecdote to reiterate His admonishment that man must check attachments that spring from the delusion of multiplicity. Said He to Uddhava, “Wise one, I have decided to relinquish earth for my permanent abode. With my exit, the earth will be consumed by the vagaries of the Kali Yuga that stands glaring us in the face. Stay not much longer, Uddhava, for the effects of Kali will gradually change people into self-serving wretches. Relinquish notions of I and mine, and roam about the earth, your focus on perceiving my subtle presence.” Uddhava responded, “Lord, such is the potency of Thy māya, man stands powerless against it. Notions of I and mine assail him to never loosen their grip on him. Battered by the vagaries of the mind, I seek refuge in Thee, ineffective against the onslaught.”

The compassionate Lord provides Uddhava with an anecdote that enlightened him of the adverse effects of attachment. He relates to Uddhava, an encounter between the king Yadu and an avadhūta. Said Kṛṣṇa, “Yadu once chanced upon an exceedingly handsome and blissful avadhūta and became wonderstruck. He posed, ‘Where does your wisdom spring from, revered one? You engage in the world and are yet untouched by desire and unfazed by misery. You have no goal in mind and yet engage in action.’ Responded the avadhūta, ‘King, I have been blessed with countless Gurus who have illumined my path and have ignited the flame of wisdom in me. Listen as I enlist the illustrious Gurus. I have twenty-four Gurus including the earth, wind, sky, water, fire, moon, a pigeon, a serpent, the ocean, a moth, the honeybee, an elephant, and so on. The earth taught me to hold on to my identity, even in the face of hostility. Irrespective of how people treat her, dig a trough into her, she remains true to her nature. I learned one of the most important lessons from the pigeon; the lesson of detachment –

नातिस्नेहः प्रसङ्गो वा कर्तव्यः क्वापि केनचित्।
कुर्वन् विन्देत सन्तापं कपोत इव दीनधीः॥

nātisnehaḥ prasaṅgo vā kartavyaḥ kvāpi kenacit|
kurvan vindeta santāpaṁ kapota iva dīnadhīḥ||

Śrīmadbhāgavata, 11.7.52

Blind love or attachment must never be indulged in, lest one falls prey to misery,
as is evident from (the anecdote of) the unwise pigeon.

There was once a pigeon that lived in the forest along with his lovely wife. Engrossed in each other, the birds roamed about the forest joyously. The husband provided the wife with every whim and fancy, intoxicated with her. In due course, the wife produced handsome fledglings that filled the parents with immense delight. They rejoiced at the developing plumes of the fledglings, their immature caws and coos, and were besides themselves with pride. Once, when the parents were away foraging, a hunter who was passing by chanced upon the nest and trapped the fledglings in a net.The parents returned to find their precious little ones cawing piteously. Distraught at the plight of the fledglings, the mother flew right into the trap and was enmeshed in the net. The husband lamented, ‘Alas, my handsome children are trapped and my faithful wife too has followed my children to her death. Of what purpose if life to me now? How do I bear to live in this wretched nest bereft of my family? I too shall offer myself up to the cruel end the hunter had intended for my children. I shall at least be by their side when death claims me!’ Rambling thus, the pigeon who was unable to sunder his mortal attachment flew into the net to be claimed by the hunter.

Continued the avadhūta, ‘king, such are folks who enjoy a mortal frame but do not endeavor to rise above the drag of attachment, an endeavor to attain liberation.’

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Yakṣapraśnaḥ – A Dialogue between Yudhiṣṭhira and a Yakṣa

Yakṣapraśna is a section of the Āraṇaya-parva of the Mahābhārata, specifically designed to explicate the subtle nuances of dharma. Once, while living in exile from the kingdom, the Pāṇḍavas were importuned by a particular brāhmaṇa to retrieve his fire-stoking sticks that were imperative for his daily fire sacrifice. The sticks had gotten entangled in the horns of a stag, and the frightened beast had galloped like the wind, the sticks glued to his horns!

The Pāṇḍavas saw it as their duty as Kṣatriyas to restore the brāhmaṇa’s sticks so that his sacrificial rites may continue unimpeded. They set out after the stag and gave chase, but as fate would have it, lost the stag. They dropped to the floor under the cool shade of a mighty tree, exhausted and thirsty beyond expression.

Yudhiṣṭhira bade Nakula, the youngest of the brothers, to find a water source in the vicinity. He proceeds forth and chances upon a pristine lake filled with crystal clear water. Overjoyed he descends into the cool waters but is interrupted by a voice, “Touch not the water before you answer my questions, O’ child.’ Disregarding the voice, Nakula drinks from the lake and falls dead. Alarmed by Nakula’s delay in returning, Yudhiṣṭhira orders Sahadeva in pursuit of Nakula.

Sahadeva reaches the lake in due course to find his brother lying lifeless. Dismayed, he hastens towards Nakula. Tormented by insufferable thirst, Sahadeva decides to take a sip of water before proceeding and is met with the same ominous voice. Sahadeva too disregards the voice and ends up a heap in the waters, lifeless. Arjuna and Bhima too meet with the same plight and Yudhiṣṭhira is drawn to the lake seeking his siblings.

Pained by the sight of the lifeless frames of his siblings, he contemplates who could have effected such an end to the mighty heroes. Yudhiṣṭhira recognizes a celestial hand behind the mystery. He proceeds towards the waters to perform the last rites of the siblings when he is accosted by the same voice. Upon cajoling, the voice reveals himself to be a Yakṣa and states peremptorily that he would afford access to the lake only upon being answered. Thus begins a dialogue between the two, comprised of thirty-three sets of thought-provoking questions that encapsulate the dharmic sensibilities of Bhāratīya culture. Here are three sets of questions and answers exchanged between the Yakṣa and Yudhiṣṭhira –

किंस्विद्गुरुतरं भूमेः किंस्विदुच्चतरं च खात्।
किंस्विच्छीघ्रतरं वायोः किंस्विद्बहुतरं तृणात्॥

kiṁsvidgurutaraṁ bhūmeḥ kiṁsviduccataraṁ ca khāt|
kiṁsvicchīghrataraṁ vāyoḥ kiṁsvidbahutaraṁ tṛṇāt||

What is greater than the earth, and what sits higher than the sky? What is swifter than the wind, and what outnumbers grass?

माता गुरुतरा भूमेः खात् पितोच्चतरस्तथा।
मनः शीघ्रतरं वाताच्चिन्ता बहुतरी तृणात्॥

mātā gurutarā bhūmeḥ khāt pitoccatarastathā|
manaḥ śīghrataraṁ vātāccintā bahutarī tṛṇāt||

Mother is greater than the earth; father, higher than the sky. The mind is swifter than the wind, and thoughts outnumber grass.

कश्च धर्मः परो लोके कश्च धर्मः सदाफलः।
किं नियम्य न शोचन्ति कैश्च सन्धिर्न जायते॥

kaśca dharmaḥ paro loke kaśca dharmaḥ sadāphalaḥ|
kiṃ niyamya na śocanti kaiśca sandhirna jāyate||

Which of the dharmas is paramount, and which dharma leads to fruition inevitably? Restraint of what leads to cessation of misery and where does animosity not raise its head?

आनृशंस्यं परो धर्मस्त्रयी धर्मः सदाफलः।
मनो यम्य ने शोचन्ति सन्धिः सद्भिर्न जायते॥

ānṛśaṃsyaṃ paro dharmastrayī dharmaḥ sadāphalaḥ|
mano yamya ne śocanti sandhiḥ sadbhirna jāyate||

Being unsullied by cruelty is dharma-paramount. Adherence to Vedic injunctions is supremely fruitful dharma. Restraint of the mind leads to cessation of misery, and animosity does not raise its head amongst the noble.

किं नु हित्वा प्रियो भवति किं नु हित्वा न शोचति।
किं नु हित्वार्थवान्भवति किं नु हित्वा सुखी भवेत्॥

kiṁ nu hitvā priyo bhavati kiṁ nu hitvā na śocati|
kiṁ nu hitvārthavānbhavati kiṁ nu hitvā sukhī bhavet||

Relinquishing what does man become endearing? Relinquishing what makes man free of regret? Relinquishing what does man become wealthy? Relinquishing what makes man happy?

मानं हित्वा प्रियो भवति क्रिधं हित्वा न शोचति।
कामं हित्वार्थवान्भवति लोभं हित्वा सुखी भवेत्॥

mānaṁ hitvā priyo bhavati kridhaṁ hitvā na śocati|
kāmaṁ hitvārthavānbhavati lobhaṁ hitvā sukhī bhavet||

Relinquishing pride makes man endearing, while relinquishing temper leaves him free of regret. Relinquishing desires makes man wealthy, and relinquishing greed leaves him happy.

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Dīpāvali – Narakacaturdaśī

Warm Dīpāvali greetings from us here at Vedic Cosmos!

The most widely celebrated of Indian festivals, Dīpāvali has deep cultural and spiritual undertones to it. The name Dīpāvali itself means an array of lamps (dīpānām āvaliḥ,) and signifies cheer, wisdom and the triumph of good over evil.

Dīpāvali is associated with Lord Rāma’s return to Ayodhyā after having decimated the rākṣasa-army in Laṅkā, in the northern states of India. In the southern states of India, especially Tamil Nadu, Dīpāvali is called Naraka-caturdaśī, and is associated with the Kṛṣṇāvatāra.

Narakāsura was the son of Bhūmidevī, Mother earth. He was the personification of malice. He imprisoned sixteen-thousand princes and princesses, holding them captive in his dungeon for no apparent reason. He laid siege upon the celestial city of Amarāvatī. He looted Indra of his royal insignia, the parasol, and subjected him to the ignominy of looting his mother’s priced earrings. Indra appealed to Lord Kṛṣṇa, and the Lord arrived at Narakāsura’s city, Prāgjyotiṣapura, amount the redoubtable Garuḍa, with His queen Satyabhāmā by His side. The city was fortified by five moats that the Lord devastated in a jiffy. Past the moats was stationed Mura, a formidable rakṣasa, who charged Kṛṣṇa like the feisty sun of cataclysmic proportions. After decimating him, Bhagavān vanquished the seven sons of Mura, who stood between Him and the hapless princesses who prayed ardently to be rescued. Finally, Narakāsura jumped in the fray and battled Kṛṣṇa. He charged Garuḍa ferociously, and smashed his mace into Garuḍa’s plumes. The avian chariot of Kṛṣṇa stood unfazed, as if assaulted with a wreath of tender blooms. The assault, however, invited the wrath of the Lord. He could stand it no longer, for His dear devotee had been put in harm’s way. He released his Sudarśana-cakra. The brilliant disc, almost imperceptible owing to the its speed, beheaded the rākṣasa and felled him.

Bhūmidevī pleaded with the Lord that her son be redeemed. The compassionate Lord promised her that her son would find redemption in bringing joy to the world by his death, as he had brought misery to it while alive. He promised her that the day her son gave up his body would be celebrated with great pomp and joy. Thus was born, Narakacaturdaśī or Dīpāvali. The word caturdaśī means the fourteenth day of a fortnight. Dīpāvali is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight, and hence the moniker.

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Anger – Abyss Of Negativity

Modern science describes anger as a primary, natural emotion experienced when feeling threatened. It is stated too, that anger has been a tool in survival of man. Evolutionarily, feeling angered has enabled man to stand up to injustice, to defend himself and his loved ones from harm, and to protect his possessions. Mild irritability/anger may also be experienced, it is stated, when one’s basic needs of food, shelter, rest, and sex are not met. The emotion of anger is expressed as behavioural patterns ranging from mild verbal-expression of distaste, aggressive verbal-expressions (yelling,) or aggressive physical-expressions that may cause harm to oneself/property/others. While modern science agrees that behavioural expression of anger is preferable to pent-up anger as far as health goes, it also agrees that management of anger is imperative to sound physical wellness as well as social harmony. While modern science agrees that the emotion of anger is natural, it also adds that anger is largely, a negative emotion that causes more harm than good. The negative emotion is harmful for two basic reasons –

A. Anger is accompanied by a gamut of physiological reactions including increased heart-rate, increased blood pressure, and increased hormonal output (adrenaline, primarily,) that can lead to illnesses, and
B. Increased emotional responsiveness. In other words, human rationale takes flight when anger is experienced, resulting in undesirable expressions of aggression.

The Bhagavadgītā summarizes the consequences of anger most succinctly –

क्रोधाद्भवति संमोहः संमोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रमः।
स्मृतिभ्रंशाद्बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति॥

krodhādbhavati saṁmohaḥ saṁmohātsmṛtivibhramaḥ|
smṛtibhraṁśādbuddhināśo buddhināśātpraṇaśyati||

Bhagavadgītā, 2.63

From anger proceeds delusion and there from, forgetfulness (of right and wrong.) From such forgetfulness is born decay of discrimination, and ultimately destruction.

In the Sundara-kāṇḍa of Śrīmadvālmīkirāmāyaṇa is found a practical explication of this particular śloka. Hanumān set out for Lanka, singularly focused on finding Sītā. Insurmountable obstacles mar His path and He conquers them with admirable shrewness and grit, leaving the devas astonished. He reached the shores of Lanka and finds himself confronted by Laṅkiṇī, an irascible and scornful sentinel, who lands Him a blow heedless of properiety. Hanumān is enraged, but not enough to lose perspective. Bridling anger and recognizing she was no match for His strenght, He castigates her just enough to gain entry. He scoures every inch of the land, fervently seeking Sītā. After an arduous search He manages to meet Sītā, converse with Her and to allay Her fears. He then decides to meet with Rāvaṇa so He may afford wise counsel. Hence, He submits Himself willingly to the humiliation of being bound by the vile Rākṣasas. He enters the court like a lion does the forest, striking fear in Rāvaṇa’s heart. He thunders, ‘Set Sītā free if you wish to live!’ Enraged Rāvaṇa decrees Hanumān be slain. Calm and composed, Hanumān stands unfazed. Vibhīṣaṇa, Rāvaṇa’s noble brother rushes to Hanumān’s aid. Upon interecession Rāvaṇa decides to have Hanumā’s tail set on fire.

Hanumān is paraded around the city like a petty thief, bound in nothing but tattered rags, His tail a bright orange from the flame. Hanumān goes along merrily, neither humiliated nor angered. He serveiles the city, unmindful of a burgeoning flame His tail housed! Hanumān had now had enough. He decides to torment the Rākṣasas now. He leaps up into the sky, and begins setting fire to every single house in the vicinity. Fire spreads like a forest-fire in the wind, to envelop the entire city. Hanumān douses his tail in the ocean and turns to face the city that had been burned to the ground. He is overcome by remorse. Fear ceases His being contemplating Sītā too may have perished in the fire. He muses,

धन्यास्ते पुरुषश्रेष्ठा ये बुद्ध्या कोपमुत्थितम्।
निरुन्धन्ति महात्मानो दीप्तमग्निमिवाम्भसा॥

dhanyāste puruṣaśreṣṭhā ye buddhyā kopamutthitam|
nirundhanti mahātmāno dīptamagnimivāmbhasā||

Sundarakāṇḍam, 55.4

Blessed indeed are the superiour souls who douse rising anger in the cool waters of the intellect.

Hanumān goes on to point out,

क्रुद्धः पापं नरः कुर्यात् क्रुद्धो हन्याद्गुरूनपि।
क्रुद्धः परुषया वाचा नरः साधूनधिक्षिपेत्॥

kruddhaḥ pāpaṁ naraḥ kuryāt kruddho hanyādgurūnapi|
kruddhaḥ paruṣayā vācā naraḥ sādhūnadhikṣipet||

Sundarakāṇḍam, 55.5

The enraged man commits gravest of sins. He slays His preceptor and reviles the noble with vitriol.

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Vālmīki – A Testimony

Rāma-Nāma is touted as the tāraka-mantram or the proverbial cruise that ferries man across the ocean of materialistic existence. Much has been said about the efficacy of the Rāma-Nāma. The Viṣṇu-Sahasranāma glorifies a single utterance of the Rāma-Nāma as a peer to the chanting of all thousand names. The most compelling testimony to the efficacy of the Nāma is offered by the anecdote of the dacoit Ratnākara, who miraculously transformed into Sage Vālmīki.

श्रीरामनामसामर्थ्यमतुलं विद्यते द्विज।
नहि पापात्मकस्तावत्पापं कर्तुं क्षमः क्षितौ॥

śrīrāmanāma-sāmarthyam-atulaṁ vidyate dvija|
nahi pāpātmakas-tāvat-pāpaṁ kartuṁ kṣamaḥ kṣitau||

Bodhāyanasaṁhitā

The efficacy of the Rāma-Nāma is such, there is not a sinner upon the phase of the earth whose sin can surpass the ability of the Rāma-Nāma to expiate it.

Ratnākara was a feared dacoit who held sway over an entire forest. Anyone who crossed paths with him owed Ratnākara everything he or she carried on their person. Once, Ratnākara encountered a rather odd individual in the forest. This recluse was dressed in modest garb, but carried a golden vīṇā. It was none other than the celestial sage, Nārada.

Ratnākara said ominously, ‘hand over all that you carry, should you wish to live.’ Nārada’s face belied no fear. Innocent as a rose, he looked up at Ratnākara with eyes drenched in compassion. He said to Ratnākara, ‘why do you thieve? Do you not know it is sinful to covet?’ Ratnākara’s response belied a subtle sense of dharma that lay buried deep within. He said, ‘I thieve not for myself, but for the benefit of my wife and child. It is my duty as a husband and a father, to provide for them.’ Nārada posed in return, a thought provoking question that left Ratnākara rather confused. Nārada posed, ‘Do you believe your wife and child would participate in the consequences of the sin you commit by thieving and terrorizing?’ Unsure, Ratnākara decides to run back to his hut deeper in the forest to find out. He ties Nārada to a tree nearby and rushes homeward. He finds to his utter consternation, neither his wife nor his child is willing to bear the burden of his karma.

Ratnākara recognizes that he alone is responsible for his actions, and the fruit of his actions accrue to him alone. Remorseful of all the sins he had committed in the past, Ratnākara rushes to Nārada, seeking a way to expiate his sins. Compassion incarnate, Nārada consoles the desolate Ratnākara and convinces him, his life too can be redeemed. Nārada endeavors to initiate Ratnākara in the Rāma-Nāma, but Ratnākara’s tongue, inured by the falsehood and cruel words he had uttered, was precluded from pronouncing the redeeming Nāma. Yet again, the compassion of his guru came to Ratnākara’s rescue.

Nārada split the syllables up and inverted them. He initiated Ratnākara, ‘Ma…. Rā…., Ma… Rā…, Ma.. Rā.., Ma. Rā, Marā, Marāmarāmarāma….’ Ratnākara’s cup overfilled with gratitude. He became consumed by the Nāma, lost track of the world around, his mind stilled in the most charming of sounds he had ever heard. Hours turned into days, days into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. Ratnākara was no longer Ratnākara. He communed with the Nāma, becoming inextricably one with it. One fine day, his rapturous trance ended. He opened his eyes and stood up, startling those around. He had just emerged from an anthill that had covered his person. An anthill had formed over him while he was wrapped in the Divine Nāma, oblivious as much to his body as the world outside. He came to be known as Vālmīki from that day forward, born as he was, off an anthill (valmīkaḥ.) Not only had the Rāma-Nāma washed away the dross of his sinful ways, but had transformed him into the perfect receptacle through which would flow the peerless Rāmāyaṇam.

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Śakti – The Supreme

Śrīvidyā is the mystical science of Sanātana-dharma that eulogizes the Supreme as Lalitā-tripurasundarī. She is the embodiment of spiritual potency or Śakti, that animates all creation, including the manifestations of Godheads. Ādi Śaṅkara states,

शिवः शक्त्या युक्तो यदि भवति शक्तः प्रभवितुं
न चेदेवं देवो न खलु कुशलः स्पन्दितुमपि।
अतस्त्वामाराध्यां हरिहरविरिञ्च्यादिभिरपि
प्रणन्तुं स्तोतुं वा कथमकृतपुण्यः प्रभवति॥

śivaḥ śaktyā yukto yadi bhavati śaktaḥ prabhavituṃ
na cedevaṃ devo na khalu kuśalaḥ spanditumapi |
atastvāmārādhyāṃ hariharaviriñcyādibhirapi
praṇantuṃ stotuṃ vā kathamakṛtapuṇyaḥ prabhavati ||

Saundaryalaharī

Śiva, only if united with Śakti is empowered to act. Else, He remains, bereft of potency, even to stir. While so, how does one, devoid of any merit, endeavour to salute Thee or praise Thee, who art worthy of the adulation of the Gods, headed by the Trinity1?

At the highest plane of awareness, the Supreme is an undivided triune of Being (sat), Consciousness (cit), and Bliss (ānanda). At this state, no creation is possible. When the triune splits into distinct sections and unites with the potency (Śakti) of the Supreme, Kriyā (agency) is born, and creation evolves. Thus, the Supreme being too, devoid of potency, is inanimate. Śaṅkara hints here, at this subtle truth behind creation, and glorifies the Devī, from whom proceeds all of creation. He argues to Her Absoluteness by stating it is She who lends Śiva animism, and it is in creation that liberation is found.

The ten days of Navarātri are dedicated primarily, to the worship of this potency that animates creation and enables liberation2. The ten-day festival is informed by the Purāṇic episode of Goddess Caṇḍī slaying the asuras, Madhu-Kaiṭabha and Śumbha-Niśumbha. The Devī-māhātmyam3 describes in great detail, how the malevolent asuras were slain by the Devī. The anecdote is believed also to be, allegorical of the triumph of man over inner rajas and tamas. On this day, the first of the ten sacred days, may the Devī impel our intellect towards Divine knowledge, our hearts towards sacred thoughts, and our hands towards service to fellow man.

या देवी सर्वभूतेषु बुद्धिरूपेण संस्थिता।
नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः॥

yā devī sarvabhūteṣu buddhirūpeṇa saṁsthitā |
namastasyai namastasyai namastasyai namo namaḥ ||

My salutation to that Supreme one (Devī) who shines as the intellect in all creation.

1. Ādi Śaṅkara suggests, ‘If Lord Śiva himself owes His ability to act to (the Potency that is) Devī, how then is he, a mere mortal, and that too, one devoid of any merit (puṇya), to claim authorship of this laudatory verse?’ After all, it is Devī alone, who has the power to act.
2. In some Northern states of India, Navarātri is also associated with the Rāmlīlā festival. Amateur actors don the roles of various characters of the Rāmāyaṇa and enact the itihāsa as related by Tulasīdāsa.
3. Chapters 81-93 of the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa are known as Devī-māhātmyam, and are ceremoniously chanted during Navarātri.
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The Yogic diet

Man is essentially what he eats, is an adage that is popular in modern times. Āyurveda, an ancient science, attests to this fact. According to this science, man’s eating habits play an integral role in his mental make-up as well as his physical well-being. The basic tenet of Āyurveda states that health (svāsthya) is a state of equilibrium of three planes – the physical (and physiological,) the mental, and the spiritual. An aberration (doṣa) in any one of the planes results in ailments. The equilibrium is said to be maintained by the three pillars of healthy eating, sound sleep, and regulated sex.

Āyurvedic texts elaborate in detail, the concept of healthy eating. The most interesting arguments on food revolve around the psychological effects of food on man. Āyurveda states that certain foods result in a contented state of mind, certain foods are excitatory, while certain other foods result in lethargy. In accordance with the psychological responses a particular food engenders, that food is categorized as sātvik (calming,) rājasic (excitatory,) or tāmasic (causing lethargy.)
A diet is chosen keeping in mind the constitution (prakṛti) of the person in question, as well as the tasks he/she intends to fulfill. If for instance, a person intends a yogic life, he/she must adhere to a sātvik diet, a diet that is comprised of foods that have a calming effect. This diet may include vegetables, fruits, tubers, nuts and honey, while eschewing extremely bitter, pungent or sour foods. Svātmārāma allocates a separate chapter to yogic diet in his work, Haṭhayoga Pradīpikā. He states,

मिताहारं विना यस्तु योगारम्भं तु कारयेत्।
नानारोगो भवेत्तस्य किञ्चिद्योगो न सिध्यति॥

mitāhāraṃ vinā yastu yogārambhaṃ tu kārayet।
nānārogo bhavettasya kiñcidyogo na sidhyati॥

[haṭhayogapradīpikā, 5.16]

One who practices Yoga without adhering to a regulated diet invites hordes of ailments and never attains the fruit of Yoga.