The Power of the Spoken Word

"Tat tvam asi"

That thou art, or who we are, is possibly the most mysterious line ever. Our knowledge about the world, the universe, the people around definitely supersedes the knowledge we have about ourselves. Yes we know who we are on paper, our definition arises from how we have imagined ourselves to be, a part of a lineage, a caste/creed, a language/state, an occupation, by our achievements if any of credibility, or by a scandal. Today, this is how we define ourselves reducing the meaning of "Tat tvam asi" to just a profound noise which has no meaning in our lives, leave alone an impact. 

So who am I really? Does the phrase "Tat tvam asi" have more meaning than what I am as a definition? Can the thought of "Tat tvam asi" transform my existing character into something more tangible and capable if i attempt to contemplate on it long hours to really figure out? The closest proximity we can feel with aatman is when we are able to hear the primordial sound OM within ourselves. If we block our ears and close all the other orifices, we come in touch with a faint vibration within ourselves. In fact while swimming when the ears are below water, its the perfect way to sense it. It mutes out all the other sounds and what remains is just a resonating sound within us. Its similar to the sound we can hear in a shell picked up from the sea shore. It just drives home the point that we have a source of sound within us and its not our vocal cords. 

Here is the irony of the story. The scriptures, the sacred texts, the spiritual path, all of them indicate oneness with this sound. All indicate that we need to silence ourselves and try to listen to the powers within us and channelize them. In the earlier yugas, the external noise was far less, and communication was a profound levels. People didn’t need to talk much, the power of the word was so strong that once uttered it couldn't be taken back. Elitist languages like Sanskrit had multifold natures, its nature is not just to communicate but more to empower. They were single sentences but their value was tenfold purely for the limited usage. 

And since communication was so limited, the need to communicate [like we do today] was not over used, the power of the word grew. Sound has been given a lot of value in Hinduism, from the sweetness of words falling into reality and being heard and imbibed as an experience of Ma Saraswati being seated on one's tongue purifying words as they roll out of a devotee's mouth to the pain being felt when one is rolled over the double edged sword of an angry rishi's curse. There was so much meaning to praises and curses in the previous yugas. 

I just look at a day go by, with social media and television yelling out, there is enough noise to deafen our minds with the atrocities around us. The biggest difference between kali yuga and earlier yugas possibly was the lack of noise in earlier eras. Lack of noise directly translates to the power of sound. The unfortunate reality of these times is that there is so much noise that it has lost its value. But in our land of noise and din, where a moment's silence is hard to get, where a said word or promise doesn’t mean anything and can easily be broken, where responsible people take the path or lies and mislead people, where we have a crumbling society that stands on the grounds of deceit and indecency, where respect is defined by money power and not intellect... who am I now? 

How can we explain the profound meaning of Tat Tvam Asi to our children in this age of madness, in this living hell? 

The sure result of the damage excessive sound has made to the environment is in the reduced effect of it. Great mantras, once said delivered on the powers assigned to them, but in today's word, mere recital 108 times fetches no results. In the ancient times, bhava mattered, love and pure bhakti were easy to identify with and the resultant mantras bloomed within the person making them super human and God like, but today, with a lot of bhakti thrown in, and severe repetitions yields results, but it is slow, and leaves us wondering about the effects of its powers. People don’t have the patience to wait that long, and in an era of immediate results, we are destroying what was once a great faith that had the endurance to fight the effects of time. Today, that same belief is questioned and without a miracle, nothing will work anymore. 


Dreaming of the Divine

I have wished several times that the Lord appears in my dreams and blesses me, that He teaches me divine lessons in my hours of deep slumber when my body lies dead in the state of shavasana and my consciousness fades into oblivion. I attempted helping myself by either reciting sacred mantras before going to bed or just thinking and dreaming of the various temples I have visited. 

Out of several attempts few of them proved to be really fruitful. No, am not boasting of any divine activity within my mind's limits, none really. But yes, some dreams stuck on like droplets of marit in my otherwise crowded head bursting with noisy thoughts. I still love to live in that limbo, repeat those vision I saw and feel a little better that maybe the Lord actually heard my wishes. 

Am one for temples, as this very blog speaks. Any temple, anywhere is of great interest. But there is a difference between the way I view and read temples in reality verses those that tend to appear in my dreams. Lets leave the noise, people and corruption out. There is a feeling of bliss every time I visit a Shiva temple, to see the various forms that the Shiva Linga can adorn. The Linga decorated at Ukhimath, with a mustache is similar to the Linga decorated at the entrance of Lingaraja temple in Bhuvaneshwar, and yet the ambiance of the two temples were starkly different. That of Lingaraja was in a shrine much smaller in dimensions, and there was a chill within the chamber. That at Ukhimath was within a room with painted walls and covered in silks and flowers lending a much warmer look in a way more colder location. That at Rudraprayag was chilling cold and wet but it gave me the best experience in bleak winter, as I was allowed to sit right next to it and do abhishekam right in the middle of the day - I must add, the priest was being very kind. The Linga at Rameshwaram was a little too far, and the jyothir linga was barely visible and I must add, that the Linga at Thiruvannamalai's Virupaksha cave near Skandashram is made of pure ash. It is a beautiful cave with a dome like cieling and seats for anyone who chooses to meditate in sync with the samadhi of Virupaksha Deva. 

In all these temples or shrines the heart looks for the divine, and the anticipation is quenched at the glimpse of the shrine and as the eyes soak in the view, this image is embedded in the mind for good. The feeling is shortlived and the overpowering presence of "time" in our lives governs exactly how long this experience is going to last. The other aspect of a new place gives various images for the mind to absorb sometimes diluting the purpose of the visit. 

In the dream state, the temple hopping is a different experience. There is no concept of time, but the mind is anyway playing a game with us. The visions I have had are not out of the world, I just feel transported to another location which the mind chooses to give a geographical name or leaves it as a nameless shrine. Somehow, in these experiences, the name and geography of the temple doesnt seem to matter, there is no concept of time except for the waking state when ever it strikes and wipes these visions away. And the shrines appear with a deep sense of mystery, that there is something more to look for. Interestingly they break all the rules of temple architecture. In a recent dream, I found myself in a dark chamber, more like a hall so to speak which had pillars and was dark. I could barely move but from where I stood I could clearly count five Shiva lingas though small and barely making it to a foot off the ground. Yet they were bright, the three lines of ash, the chandan and the kumkum looked bright to the minds eye. There was a sense of wetness though I never saw the floor. There were small flames though I never saw the lamps, and I was alone standing there still searching trying to get a better view. This shrine seemed to break all the rules, all the rules that I had read up and expected my mind to exercise within the dreams views. But here in this picture, all the rules I have learned were broken, all the theories didnt apply and I had no connection with anyone. All there was in this level of consciousness was the Lord in His many forms and my vision of His being.

Sitting back in reality, and while I negotiate with my mind watching every thought as they go by and wondering whether they should be entertained, these visions of the divine just help feel better that there are some visions we just dont have to worry about but feel glad we even got a sight of them, that the mind is capable of imagining the Lord in forms that I have not yet discovered. 

All said and done, I value these dreams for the experience of mystery, for the spiritual tease it offers me, for the hope that I am being blessed with a vision of the Lord and of course for every new shrine I get to see, real or imaginary. It is so strange that something as static as the Shiva Linga can make a seeker so interested over such a long period of time. Its the emotion that matters, the need to want to know and the need to discover the core of the Lord. And somewhere along that line, the rules of ritual slowly begin to fade away.  


The Beauty of Idol Worship

I have heard it too often; way too often as to why do Hindu's have a concept called idol worship that governs the fundamental principle of their faith. Frankly, I have been questioned and mocked at by people of other faiths and nationalities who simply don’t understand the basics of idol worship. 

We fall into this trap very often simply because we don’t have an answer to give them, one that will shut them up for good. I have been contemplating this thought for a very long time and what shows up as answers are realizations over a period of time. Idol worship means different things at different points in our lives based on our spiritual maturity. And as this rises, idol worship starts to look way more interesting that it was. 

Our introduction to our Gods is through pictures; we relate to them and believe in their existence through these pictures. Unlike all other faiths which originated or finally got established by a successful seeker like Buddha, Mahavira, Prophet Muhammad or Christ, ours is one of a kind where the Gods existed and lived way before we even showed up. Hence, the question arises about whether our Gods really exist. And our answer is doubtlessly "Of course they do". That picture is currently our only proof that they do... but seriously, are we looking for proof at all? 

The first rule we need to learn, which may not be explicitly taught is, don’t look for proof. Just believe, and it will come by. And so we all believe. While on one side almost all of us are inducted into the western system of education which basically states that we should believe only that which we can sense [touch/taste/see/hear/feel] our hearts still yell out in love for that cute elephant God Ganesha, who is not just a God, he is hybrid as well and mostly none of us have experienced him yet. That makes our case a little tougher to the outside world to digest. No worries. 

In our search, and if our search is strong enough the outside world that questions us slowly starts to fade away. We graduate as well, from pictures of Gods and Goddesses in costumes that we don’t wear anymore to energies that have certain characteristics. Our growth curve starts from pictures and as our worship intensifies it moves towards idols/statues which graduates towards yantras and transcends into sacred emblems of worship till finally we don’t need any of it and we just reach a state where the mind itself has been tamed well to be the idol of our worship. [Note, all these elements are available to us and we are aware of them all the time, but when it comes to understanding their presence consciously, its a different ball game]

How does this work? It is the mastery of our consciousness that helps us grow up and ascend this ladder of faith. It would have taken us at least 20 years to get to looking at that picture carefully and ask why that God or Goddess is depicted that way. This is the first sign of curiosity and awareness that we develop in this field. We want to know, we seriously want to know. If we have asked that question there is a good chance, we didn’t get the answer simply because, in most cases, mom and dad didnt ask the question themselves and they now don’t have an answer. At this point the decision is either to give up or hunt. Almost all of us give up and very few take to hunting. The next question is about where we look. This is when we want the Guru, and we are given the line, "Oh the Guru will come to you when you are ready" How are we ever going to be ready when we don’t even know where to start? The point is the fact that we are curious enough is a sign of readiness. 

Realizing very quickly that the [human] Guru is not going to make it to our door step in a hurry, and that curious God/Goddess still hangs within the frame staring at us every day, the next logical step is to pick up a book and get reading and all the associated mythologies, mantras and stories come flowing down to us like a reservoir just broke open. This is the next stage which when complete possibly takes us in the direction of the idols. Idols, the default location to get to see them with the new acquired Bhakti is at the temple, the one single location where they are treated as real, given a bath, dressed, anointed, and offered food and offering from devotees. The temple march is the next possible solution. Tanked up with mythology in the mind, the temple next door suddenly starts to make a lot of sense. We identify with all the being in there, with the many forms of Shiva and Vishnu, with the ganas, gandharvas, kinnaras flying about the sky in the paintings hanging in the temple hallways. We get into the mad hunt for the Holy One, visiting temple after temple, looking at the same God, in a new avatar. This journey is fun, total and complete fun. I still have not gotten out of it. Despite the corruption of the priests and the dirty maintenance and long queues and loud noise the temple is still good fun. 

They say, dont look for God outside, because he is within us. Yes, He/She truly is inside of us, but to realize that we do need to go outside. The temple visits give us new emotional experiences and the various forms we have seen begin to raise new questions. What is this deity all about? Now we come to a new set of book, the actual shlokas, the actual bija mantras the root logic of their existence. Here is a mix of Tantra, Mantra and yantra. This is a level of abstraction, one that is slightly hard to understand but fantastic to realize. This science shakes the apple cart. It makes us realize a few things, like Ravana was not so evil as he is painted out to be, like Kali drinks the blood of evil souls after death, like Shiva canbe discovered in the cremation ground, like death is another state, not something to be scared of. That things happen to us in life might not be something we judge as good, but they are good because they teach us something more about ourselves. And then of course... tat tvam asi...  

This stage is long and might take more than a life time to figure out. This stage can also be coupled with the emblems of worship namely, banalingas, and/or shalagramas. This is stepping into the complex zone, its the zone of Panchayatna puja. By this time we are in sync with most of the philosophies, we understand where we stand in the hierarchy of beings and we know where we need to go. But are we equipped - possibly no. On the face of it, the banalingas and shalagramas look like stones, but no, they are not just stones, they are sacred emblems, energy rich naturally and pure. They need stricter rules in the homes that they reside in. Stricter rules are the definition of a disciplined life alias orthodox. These are self energized stones as opposed to the stone idols in the temple which are manually energized through elaborate ritual. This is why they are stronger, more potent and require that much more care and love. 

Till now our worship has visibly been external but our maturity has been completely internal. We reach a stage where we follow no one [human avatar of sorts, Gurus] but we cave into ourselves and detach from the world outside and get into dialog with our spiritual Guru. Now its all about ourselves, our mind and our heart towards our Guru. With the combination of logic and emotion and sustained practice we reach the doors of spiritual experience. Idol worship is a catalyst to reach this state and once we are there, we get the divine vision to see the real form of the same deity in the picture frame, in the temple idol.   

This is the state we all aspire to reach, where we can get a glimpse of the deity as we had seen in the temple, and in the pictures. With Divya Dristi, and acquired spiritualism, we now reach the gates of heaven and now a trip to the temple reinforces the same form, the same love, the same bhakti that we have matured and grown into appreciating. What we see there is no longer an Idol; it is the very presence of the divine. Ganesha and Hanuman appear in orange red skin, Bhairava appears with yellow flames surrounding him, and Kali appears with deep blue hue to bless us. Our idols only re-created this truth, to reinforce this concept, this belief that if we try hard enough we can be blessed with the divine vision to set eyes on them in real consciousness.