This blog is back

After a gap of about five years, this blog is back with a new name — Hindu Routes to God.

In the process of migrating this blog from the previous web address, some of your comments may have been lost. Your comments are valuable to this blog; feel free to post new ones.

Edited on May 5, 2019.

Yogavasistha: Tandava and the dissolution

It is believed that Rudra, a form of Shiva, performs the Tandava dance with his Shakti when it is time for the dissolution of the universe. However, according to the Yogavasistha [1], this dance is a continuous process. Symbolizing the impermanence of the material world, the entire universe, where every single object is destructible, becomes the theatre for Tandava. The drying up of water bodies, destruction of the fourteen worlds, and the collapse of the stars – are all a part of Tandava.

Describing his own vision of a great dissolution from a kalpa [2] of the past, Rishi Vasistha, in this scripture, explains that the Tandava concluded when Rudra engulfed the entire universe as if it were a leaf. Rudra, beyond comprehension, then turned invisible, according to this book. As of the universe, nothing but absolute peace and consciousness remained, which is the true nature of Shiva [3].

[1] Note that the Yogavasistha supports the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. Hinduism involves multiple philosophies, and alternate and more detailed descriptions about the universe’s dissolution can be found in other Hindu scriptures.

[2] aeon

[3] According to popular Hindu theories, following the dissolution of the universe, numerous abodes (loka) of God continue to exist, where beings live permanently with God.

Holi: Celebration vs. Renunciation

In the most popular traditional story about Holi, Prahlada, one of Lord Vishnu’s child devotees, was not only saved from an aunt who hated him, but he was also saved from the boon of Lord Brahma, the writer of the divine plan. What Brahma writes on the blueprint for the universe unfolds to cause major predestined events in our lives. Had Prahlada left everything for destiny to work out, he might not have been saved; the divine plan created by Brahma, based on flawless karmic calculations, could have been on Holika’s side. But Prahlada made the right choice — the only choice that could have saved him.  He took the refuge (sharanagati) of Lord Vishnu and found the divine plan overridden by Vishnu’s grace. For us, Holika probably represents very powerful circumstances, filled with anger, hatred, restriction, and conspiracies. Prahlada represents a being who is apparently weak but is solely dependent on the Supreme Soul — Vishnu. Of course, Vishnu modified Prahlada’s circumstances, destroyed Holika, and saved Prahlada.

In the other story related to why Holi is celebrated, Shiva turned Kamadeva, the god of desires, into ashes. Following the elimination of desires from the world, Shiva, in his divine play, continued to focus on his blissful self, and Devi Parvati started her meditation on Shiva (for thousands of years) to get her marriage proposal accepted. For us, the festival indicates that whenever an individual being begins the remembrance of Pavati-Shiva, they take the individual being in their protection and trigger his or her spiritual journey by closing the three gates to hell — kama (lust/desires), krodha (anger), and lobha (greed) — for the individual being. With time, renunciation and pure love win over the individual being’s instincts.

We can waste the occasion of Holi by extravagant shopping, partying, gossips, drinking, making fun of others, or watching scrawled TV programs. Alternatively, we can give the festival some spiritual meaning by eliminating at least a single selfish desire.

Edited on May 9, 2019.

Can God give us money too?

God takes care of his devotees’ security and needs. He inserts difficult lessons in our lives, at times, to create ways for our liberation.

While God takes care of every being in his creation, desire for money and its accumulation becomes irrelevant for the advanced spiritual seeker who has learned to think about God fulltime, leaving all worries about his or her future to God. In contrast, beginners in spirituality may find it difficult to leave their liking for money or may be bound by circumstances to work for money.

As we learn from the lives of saints and gain lessons in spirituality from their writings, we can bring in certain qualities from the lives of saints, if possible, into our own lives. One such quality is — patience — which, in the context of monetary returns, teaches us that a lag may exist between our hard work and our returns.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, God does take care of his devotees’ security and needs, as promised by him during his visit to Earth as Lord Krishna. But we must remember that God works according to his own calendar, not that of individual souls. And what we gain at the end of the day may be unrelated to the intensity of our desires. In the Bhagavad Gita, God says that he has given us the freedom to work or perform actions but has not given us the right to its results.

To teach us some lessons, God may, at times, deliberately delay the results of our hard work or not fulfil many of our wishes. If we request God to give us a chocolate, God may give us an ice cream. If we ask for an ice cream, God may provide us with chocolate. The actual choice of food becomes only available to the seeker who no longer wishes for chocolate or ice cream but can observe that it is God who provides everyone with food. Many advanced seekers become naturally trained in leaving the results of their work to God, which is one of the classical paths of yoga (karma yoga) by which individual souls can escape the universe to reach God.

The path of devotion (bhakti yoga), though from the same Hindu tradition, takes a somewhat different approach towards renouncing the results of our karma to God. On this path, we are expected to surrender our soul at the lotus feet of Lord Rama or Lord Shiva or another favourite form of the Divine. When this happens, separate surrender of karma is not required. Surrender of the self includes surrender of our karma. It includes recognition of God as the real doer. In other words, bhakti yoga, in some its versions, includes karma yoga as an internal part. This devotional approach may begin with simple prayers, remembrance of God, and learning some basic spiritual principles. Later, we may also have to learn lessons by experiencing difficulties and creating our own possible solutions while remembering God. A well-developed habit of remembering God may make it easier for us to surrender ourselves to God.

Workplace spirituality involves a delicate balance between desire for money and remembrance of God; the two cannot exist together in the same mind at the same moment. Once we recognize that God is omnipresent and always watches us from within our heart, we may become more vigilant in making ethical decisions and may develop the power to counter yearning for money. The more often we remember God, the better are our chances of triggering karma yoga involuntarily.

When we only have God in our mind, we no longer absorb negative energies like anger from the environment. Our remembrance of God eliminates all negative thought processes that create a major separation between the individual soul and God, who is the source of all knowledge and infinite virtues. Consequently, the karmic cycle breaks and we recognize our own divine origin.

When we are spiritual beginners, our prayers to God can include requests for forgiveness for our bad karma, requests for spiritual guidance, and requests for God’s proximity (liberation). Because prayers are karma of the present moment, prayers can always overcome some of our negative karma from the past. Moreover, every prayer to God is responded to by both God and Nature, demonstrating the love from God for the individual soul.

In the Bhagavad Gita, forgiveness and spiritual guidance are among the things that Arjuna asks God for. Once Arjuna sees Krishna’s cosmic form, Arjuna seeks forgiveness for calling Krishna his friend and for not understanding earlier that Lord Krishna is the Divine himself. Because Arjuna was not on the unrighteous side to begin with and was not repenting for bad karma, his asking for forgiveness was more a gesture of politeness. This apology was a devotional act — a kind of prayer — by an advanced spiritual seeker. Of course, God responded by providing more spiritual guidance as well as his refuge.

God, being the perfect parent, does not make the parenting mistakes that human beings can make. By nurturing the universe according to his own plan and by inserting difficult lessons at times, he creates ways for the liberation of every soul.

Last edited on July 31, 2019.

Who is a Bhakti saint?

In order to answer this question, we will first take a look at the simpler question, “Who is a saint?” and then simply add the element of bhakti to the answer. As my reference, I am selecting the discussion between Garuda and Kakbhushandi in the Ramacharitamanasa [1], where one of the questions asked by Garuda is, “Who is a saint and how can we differentiate a saint from the unsaintly?”

“Saints accept sorrow for the good of others, while wrongdoers accept sorrow for hurting others,” replies Kakbhushandi, adding “Beneficence is the innate nature of a saint.” This answer stresses that it is the capability to experience pain for others that makes one a saint [2]. Though the finest qualities of beneficence (paropkara) may be difficult to obtain without self-realization, saintliness is unrelated to the possession of mystical powers, type of dress worn, or the number of one’s spiritual disciples and followers.

Would Hindus label anyone who has the capacity to experience pain for others and is devotional as a bhakti saint? Not so soon…the individual being’s acceptance by Rama is significant too. And this is where the darshan of Rama comes in [3]. The biographies of bhakti saints show us how they have all experienced suffering for other human beings, possessed the bhakti of Rama/Shiva, and were blessed enough to meet the Divine every once in a while. Birth as a bhakti saint is never easy…it undoubtedly remains the greatest phenomenon in Hindu spirituality.

Goswami Tulasidasa believes that virtues, niyams, meditation, charity, and austerity are all habits worth possessing, but they cannot eliminate material attachments and non-discrimination from our mind; the only actual savior for beings trapped in this universe is — the bhakti of Rama.

[1] This comprehensive discussion in the Uttarkand focuses on our spiritual evolution. It is a must-read for all devotional seekers.
[2] What is the biggest happiness that a person can experience? Meeting a saint, according to the Ramacharitmanasa.
[3] Also check out this post; it explains how Shabri obtained the darshan of Rama.

Krishna’s last lesson for Arjuna

As soon as Lord Krishna concluded his divine play on Earth and left the planet, Arjuna understood that it was not Arjuna’s own power that had won the Mahabharata war but that he was only an instrument that Krishna had nurtured to carry out parts of Krishna’s divine play. It is interesting to note that Arjuna, in spite of his nearness to Krishna, took an entire lifetime to understand this, reflecting the situation of a typical spiritual seeker.

Earlier, Arjuna had seen his own chariot turn into ashes after the Mahabharata war was over and had heard the Bhagavad Gita directly from Krishna’s mouth. Yet, being a human being, Arjuna could not understand some of the important points. Sometimes, difficult lessons in living may be understood by revising the related theoretical concepts again and again; when this approach does not work, we may have to learn lessons by experiencing difficulties and creating our own possible solutions. Now that Arjuna’s time to leave Earth was nearing, Nature delivered the final lesson: Arjuna lost a battle to ordinary thieves who were fighting with wooden clubs and running away with Dwarka’s wealth. To make it worse, Arjuna even forgot how to discharge his arrows from the bow. For a warrior who possessed most of the divine weapons reachable in the solar system, this defeat was a major blow to the ego — the biggest loss that Arjuna had ever experienced. Possibly, this event was much bigger for Arjuna than the destruction of the major Kaurava warriors in the Mahabharata war.

As the Vishnu Purana tells us, when Arjuna visited Maharishi Ved Vyas after losing this last battle and asked why this had happened, Vyas said, “Everyone that is born must die. Everyone that rises must fall. A union always ends in a separation, and all accumulation ends with a loss.” Vyas further advised the Pandavas to renounce everything, leave the kingdom, and spend their remaining days in the forest.