Ganesha, the elephant God, is lovingly worshipped throughout India. He is referred to as the dispeller of obstacles, giver of powers, and benefactor of the arts. “Sri Ganesh” also means the auspicious start of anything. Traditionally, Ganesha is worshipped at the beginning of any auspicious event.
There’s a strange mythical story about Ganesha’s birth: how he was born out of the dirt which came off Parvati’s (intentionally spelled Paarvati throughout) body, how he stood guard whilst she bathed inside a cave, not allowing anyone to meet her, how he battled all the Gods and defeated them, and how, eventually, Shiva cut his head off and replaced it with an elephant head. Is there a logical explanation for this myth?
Our ancient rishis were astute and realised that giving sermons full of wisdom or advising people against living in excess doesn’t work. Thus, in the Puranas, one finds cryptic stories that hold deep secrets. Behind the veil of a wonderful tale, one will usually find a wise teaching.
Paarvati is the daughter of Parvata, the mountain. There is a secret in the name of Paarvati. In Sanskrit, Paru means something that is extremely high – a mountain, the sky, or the heavens. It can also be seen as a great joy, or celebration. Parva also means festival-the apex of something; say, the completion of a project, assignment or school year, with a celebration.
Etymologically, “Paarv” means something that arises out of Paru. It can also mean the rising of joy in celebration. When ‘ati’ is added at the end of ‘Paarv’, we get ‘Paarvati’. Ati in Sanskrit means ‘a lot of something’. Thus, one meaning of Paarvati is “the peak of joyous celebration”.
The Puranic myth tells us that Devi Paarvati created Ganesha out of the sandalwood paste and clay that she had used to clean herself during her bath, brought the idol to life, addressed him as her son, and instructed him to guard the entrance to her private chambers. He followed Paarvati’s orders and fought off all the Devas who came to meet her. Eventually, the boy prevented Shiva from entering the cave. There was a fearsome battle leading to the boy’s beheading and subsequent resurrection with an elephant head by a chastised Shiva.
What happens when there is uncontrolled excess during any celebration? Often, things get nasty. Shiva represents awareness, and Paarvati is the peak of celebration. This tale, in fact, addresses human nature through a perennial cycle of events connected to uncontrolled excesses during celebrations, when awareness is lost and things get nasty.
Sometimes, when in a group, we become excitable and lose control of ourselves. At such times, we behave as if highly intoxicated and do not realise that we might be crossing too many boundaries.
People often become excitable when they are enjoying themselves a lot, forgetting decorum. They begin to laugh and make insensitive jokes without realising the implications for the people around them. This is ‘Ati’, the excess. It happens through the loss of one’s awareness and dignity. Quite often, you can see this in family gatherings and parties, where people are drinking and joking loudly, completely unaware of themselves.
At such times, things can get nasty. Often, there are fights and harsh words are spoken in this state of ignorance. These moments of indiscretion can cause immense damage. Homes break up, and friends become lifelong foes. It’s unfortunate that these events begin with joy and end with sadness and resentment.
Ebullience, or excess of joy, symbolised by the pastes used by Paarvati to cleanse herself, does not have intrinsic awareness. When this paste was moulded into the original clay image of the boy and given ‘life’, he was like an automaton, whose only act was to prevent anyone, including Shiva, from entering Paarvati’s cave.
When many hurtful things are said, the damage needs to be undone. The ego comes up and creates a barrier between us and the ones whom we have hurt in the ‘ati’ of our past ‘Parvas’. Similarly, those hurt are also unaware that the harsh words were unintentional, uttered from a different space, and therefore they hold grudges against our foolish words. This is ego as well. Ego is the dirt that takes the form of a “guard” around us as we keep festering, trying to come to terms with the unpleasant situation. Many well-intentioned people try to counsel us, but we push them away with further harsh words.
In the myth, these are the Devas fought off by the boy guarding the cave. Ultimately, Shiva appears and fights the boy, cutting off his head with the Trishul, his trident. He then encounters a horrified Paarvati, who explains that the boy was born out of her own body, and thus was her son. She demands that he be brought back to life. Shiva then replaces the shattered head of the boy with the head of an elephant, and thus Ganesha, Shiva’s dearly loved son, is reborn.
What does replacing Ganesha’s head with an elephant’s symbolise? When all fails, someone wise, someone we truly respect, appears in our lives, admonishes us, and shakes us out of our ‘abhimaan’, or righteous ego, drilling common sense into us. If our ego drops, then eventually, all is well.
Shiva is the wise one, and our ego is represented by the head he severs with the Trishul, the three-pronged ‘weapon’ of thought, word, and action he employs to bring us back to our senses.Of course, all our justifications are dear to us, like Paarvati’s body dirt is still her ‘son’. The wise one acknowledges this, and helps us turn these “weaknesses” into our power! Shiva transforms the angry boy into a peaceable, wise soul filled with immense wisdom—represented by an elephant’s head. As a result, Ganesha appears to be the most endearing and beloved of the Gods.
A wise guru will channelize your wild energies, and you will become like Ganesha—the Lord of the Ganas. Ganas means groups—of people, thoughts, ideas, words—anything. All our nastiness, sarcasm, and smartness do have intelligence hidden within, which can do a lot of good for others if used wisely. It needs a guide to put us on the right track. This is the implication of the final part of this tale. When we are not in control of our senses, we are not able to focus our energies. If the mind is organised and we are disciplined, the Ganas are in our control, and we have solved the riddle of Ganesha for ourselves.
Captain Deepam Chatterjee (retired) has recently written The Millennial Yogi, published by Penguin Random House India. He is on Instagram at @deepam.chatterjee
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Make something sacred in your life
Often, we are bogged down by rituals, rules, and regulations. Most people get caught up in the propriety of the rituals. In ritualistic worship, the priest is usually quite careful about not making mistakes. But authentic prayer is very personal and intimate. It cannot be ritualised, proclaimed or announced.
A fully realised soul’s actions and words are often beyond the comprehension of ordinary folks. A saint’s total immersion in divine ecstasy has often been misunderstood by the keepers of the faith and labelled as heresy and blasphemy.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa was the priest of the Kali temple at Dakshineswar. He never adhered to rituals in the worship of the divine mother. People were aghast at his apparent ‘blasphemies’ and sacrilege. Initially, he was ostracised and even beaten for insulting the divine mother by sleeping on the altar in unwashed clothes, giving her food he had already tasted, and at times even worshipping himself with the flowers, which he later put on the mother’s feet. In fact, it was not the people, but the benefactor of that region and temple, Rani Rasmani, who intervened and ordained that no one dare harm the saint.
Indeed, most people at Dakshineswar did not see Sri Ramakrishna as an enlightened soul right away. Rather, they saw that their means of livelihood would be lost, in case they angered the powerful queen. Thus, they indulged him and let him be. Of course, Sri Ramakrishna was a highly evolved soul. It is said that the divine mother presented herself in her glorious form in front of him. As time went by, people realised that his spontaneous worship was done out of intense bhava, or adoration.
However, ritualistic practices are important too. They pull the mind away from worldly activities. But it is very important that one learns to drop the practice once the aim has been achieved. You don’t continue carrying on your head the ladder you used to climb up, once you have reached the roof. That would be utterly foolish.
A silent mind is totally open to all possibilities. True prayer starts when the mind has reached silence. There need not be any words or practices in the silent mind’s prayer.
We must make something sacred in our lives. Sacredness brings gentleness and softness to you. When a practice becomes sacred, it becomes very intimate. This intimate and sacred practice can become our pathway to divinity. That can become the source of our prayer.
When we pray, we must segregate ourselves from the rest. What is sacred, must be kept secret. In the olden days, Gurus gave mantras to their chosen and deserving disciples. The mantras were to be revealed to no one. They were to be guarded and kept a secret. There was a solemn promise and a sacred bond between the guru and the disciple that was beyond the material world. Even today, this holy tradition is deeply honoured.
The power of the Guru-disciple bond is immutable because the respect for tradition is considered the most sacred and holy. This sacredness brings about a spiritual practice so intimate that it gradually purifies the consciousness of the seeker. Holy tradition is important. That which is sacred creates purified practices that raise the consciousness.
Traditions are important, but should they become more important than one’s own joyous freedom to express oneself? One needs to remember that traditions should not become so rigid that they hurt or harm others. Everyone is faithful to some ideal. We cannot force another person to believe in our gods, become faithful to our faith, and assent to our way of looking at divinity.
Captain Deepam Chatterjee (Retd.) is the author of The Millennial Yogi, Penguin India.
He teaches Meditation, Mysticism, Mythology & can be reached on Instagram @deepam.chatterjee.
CAN WE BRING ABOUT A TOTAL REVOLUTION?
All outward forms of change brought about by wars, revolutions, reformations, laws, and ideologies have failed completely to change the basic nature of man and therefore of society.
We human beings are what we have been for millions of years—colossally greedy, envious, aggressive, jealous, anxious and despairing, with occasional flashes of joy and affection. We are a strange mixture of hate, fear, and gentle-ness; we are both violence and peace. There has been outward progress from the bullock cart to the jet plane, but psychologically, the individual has not changed at all, and the structure of society throughout the world has been created by individuals. The outward social structure is the result of the inward psychological structure of our human relationships, for the individual is the result of the total experience, knowledge, and conduct of man. Each one of us is the storehouse of all the past. The individual is the human who is all mankind. The whole history of man is written in ourselves.
Do observe what is actually taking place within yourself and outside yourself in the competitive culture in which you live with its desire for power, position, prestige, name, success, and all the rest of it—observe the achievements of which you are so proud, this whole field you call living in which there is conflict in every form of relationship, breeding hatred, antagonism, brutality, and endless wars. This field, this life, is all we know, and being unable to understand the enormous battle of existence, we are naturally afraid of it and find escape from it in all sorts of subtle ways. And we are also frightened of the unknown—frightened of death, frightened of what lies beyond tomorrow. So we are afraid of the known and afraid of the unknown. That is our daily life, and in that there is no hope, so every form of philosophy, every form of theological concept, is merely an escape from the actual reality of what is.
All outward forms of change brought about by wars, revolutions, reformations, laws, and ideologies have failed completely to change the basic nature of man and therefore of society. As human beings living in this monstrously ugly world, let us ask ourselves: can this society, based on competition, brutality, and fear, come to an end? Not as an intellectual conception, not as a hope, but as an actual fact, so that the mind is made fresh, new and innocent and can bring about a different world altogether? It can only happen, I think, if each one of us recognises the central fact that we, as individuals, as human beings, in whatever part of the world we happen to live in or whatever culture we happen to belong to, are totally responsible for the whole state of the world.
We are each one of us responsible for every war because of the aggressiveness of our own lives, because of our nationalism, our selfishness, our gods, our prejudices, our ideals, all of which divide us. And only when we realize, not intellectually but actually, as if we were hungry or in pain, that you and I are responsible for all the existing chaos, for all the misery throughout the entire world because we have contributed to it in our daily lives and are part of this monstrous society with its wars, divisions, ugliness, brutality, and greed, will we act.
But what can a human being do—what can you and I do—to create a completely different society? We are asking ourselves a very serious question. Is there anything to be done at all? What can we do? Will somebody tell us? People have told us. The so-called spiritual leaders, who are supposed to understand these things better than we do, have told us by trying to twist and mould us into a new pattern, and that hasn’t led us very far; sophisticated and learned men have told us, and that has led us no further.
We have been told that all paths lead to truth—you have your path as a Hindu, and someone else has his path as a Christian, and another as a Muslim, and they all meet at the same door—which is, when you look at it, so obviously absurd. Truth has no path, and that is the beauty of truth; it is living. A dead thing has a path to it because it is static, but when you see that truth is something living, moving, which has no resting place, which is in no temple, mosque, or church, which no religion, no teacher, no philosopher, nobody can lead you to—then you will also see that this living thing is what you actually are—your anger, your brutality, your violence, your despair, the agony and sorrow you live in. In the understanding of all this is the truth, and you can understand it only if you know how to look at those things in your life. And you cannot look through an ideology, through a screen of words, through hopes and fears.
Can you and I, then, bring about in ourselves, without any outside influence, without any persuasion, without any fear of punishment—can we bring about in the very essence of our being a total revolution, a psychological mutation, so that we are no longer brutal, violent, competitive, anxious, fearful, greedy, envious, and all the rest of the manifestations of our nature which have built up the rotten society in which we live our daily lives?
Kashmiri ASHA worker serves as inspiration by donating blood 28 times
A 32-year-old woman named Bilqees Ara, an ASHA worker, has donated blood 28 times since 2012. She has served as an inspiration to others across the nation.
Bilqees, who is from the Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara area of North Kashmir, stated that she understands the “importance of blood”.
She said that by donating a pint of blood, she not only saves a precious life but an entire family.
She began donating blood in 2012 and has since given 28 pints.
She expressed her gratitude and pride at being the saviour of so many patients in the Kashmir valley.
I’ve seen people cry helplessly as they try to get blood to save their loved ones, but I’m proud of myself because I’ve arranged blood for them as well. “I felt an inner joy after that,” she said.
In Kashmir, she is known as the “Blood Woman of Kashmir”.
She is a registered blood donor. Whenever a need arises, the officials at the Blood Bank at Handwara hospital call her and, within the shortest span of time, she makes herself available to donate blood.
Women should come forward and do this as there is nothing to be afraid of. This is to be done for society, she said. She also said that she wondered who else would do it if she refused.
If a person has blood and courage, why can’t he give it to someone else in a time of need? She asked.
Balance is key to harmonious relationships
Two intelligent people always fight. There will always be conflict between them because each thinks he is better than the other. However, if there is one wise person and one intelligent person, there will be no conflict because a wise person understands the importance of humility and is prepared to bow before others, honouring the other person’s virtues.
This is why we are told in Rajyoga that if there are two masters in a home, there will always be quarrelling. What is the solution? If one person becomes the master, the other has to become a child. If there is a master and a child in a home, one will give the orders and the other will obey them. If both people are giving orders, who is there to obey them? That leads to problems. Two heads will quarrel with each other because both want their opinion to be accepted. Wisdom means surrendering for the sake of creating unity. This is not surrendering out of weakness but out of honour.
Sometimes family members want to discuss something. Each member gives an opinion, and each one seems to be strong in opinion. So how do you decide which opinion to adopt? While giving an opinion, you are a master. Fine – you do not need to suppress your opinions. We should never suppress our thinking. If you have an opinion or suggestion, speak out. Suppressing our intellect is a kind of spiritual suicide.
If I suppress thoughts that come to my mind, I will not grow spiritually. So, I do not need to suppress my thinking, but I also do not need to emphasise what I think should happen. When we offer our opinions, what do we do? We do not only give our opinions; we also want our opinions to be acted on. This is because we express them using the ego of the intellect, which thinks, “I am the best.”
If I am a wise person, I give my opinion when asked, and then when the majority decides, cooperate for the sake of the majority. This is common sense. If there are ten people involved, each person’s opinion cannot be acted upon. When we are wise, we find the balance between being a master and a child. When this balance is maintained, you will not have any problems because then you will get along with anyone without creating conflict. The wise person is able to interact with everyone without losing her own identity.
Having wisdom means to have both humility and also the authority of truth, ‘naram’ and ‘garam’. Only when I have both, can I be flexible. If I am only ‘garam’ I become too stiff, if I am only ‘naram’, then I become too fragile. I have both of these qualities within myself. God has given me this beautiful balance, to use in all my relations with others.
The late Dadi Janki was Administrative Head of the Brahma Kumaris.
Living in the now
Time, it is said, is money. Unlike money, however, lost time cannot be recovered, and in this respect, it is more valuable than money. However, a lot of people forget this and waste their time dwelling on the past or dreaming of the future.
While they are doing this, they are disconnected from the present, unaware of the passage of time and even of the things that are happening around them. This experience can leave us tired, depressed or angry if we have been thinking about something that caused a lot of hurt or was otherwise emotionally intense.
We suffer the same loss of time and energy when we worry or dream about the future. It is one thing to make plans, whereby we think of the steps we need to take to accomplish a task or cope with likely developments. But worrying, which usually involves thinking about how things might go wrong, does not help. Fear and doubt cause worry, and the result is anxiety and a feeling of helplessness, both created by imaginary situations we have dreamed up.
At the other end of the spectrum, we might fly high, riding dreams of imagined successes, until sobering reality brings us back to the present.
In all these cases precious time is lost in the present.
The past cannot be changed, and we cannot undo our misfortunes by repeatedly thinking about them. The best we can do is to identify any mistakes that were made and learn from them so that they are not repeated.
Similarly, planning is worthwhile only if the plans are acted upon. If I plan to have enough savings to buy a house, and work out all the details about how it will be painted, furnished and decorated, but never start saving money, then owning a house will remain a dream for me.
The present is the vantage point from where I can see the past and visualise the future. But my life will not move forward if I just stand there watching. I need to start acting while keeping in mind both, lessons from the past and my future goals.
There are several ways in which we can loosen the hold of the past on the mind. Whatever past event we focus on, we may need to express the feelings associated with the event, whether good or bad, before we can move on. Releasing pent up emotions can help us let go of the past and focus on the present. For this we can talk to a friend, family member or counsellor. Alternatively, we can try writing down our feelings about the past.
Even if we are dwelling on good memories, it can cause us to lose connection with the present. We may be romanticizing the past or longing for things to be the way they were, instead of focusing on how to improve our present life.
If expressing our feelings about the past does not help, we can focus on happy things. Since we cannot change the past, and it is pointless to worry about the future, it is better not to dwell on them. Instead, we can think about happy things happening in the present.
Another useful approach is to forgive and forget. Blaming others for past hurts can spoil the present. Instead of dwelling on who has caused us pain, we need to forgive them, focus on present events and leave behind any blame or hurt we feel. Festering in the pain does not change the person who hurt us and it will cause us to stay in the past.
One of the most powerful tools for remaining focused on the positive and the present is meditation. Spending time in quiet reflection and silence, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, enables us to come back to a centred place of being. With the pace of modern life growing ever faster, we are losing touch with our true inner peace and power. When we no longer feel grounded, we can experience ourselves pushed and pulled in different directions.
Meditation is a state of being in that place just beyond everyday consciousness, which is where spiritual empowerment begins. Spiritual awareness gives us the power to choose good and positive thoughts over those that are negative and wasteful. We start to recognise harmful patterns of thinking and behaviour and begin to avoid them, and develop the ability to steer our mind and focus it where we want. All of this gradually frees us from bondage to the past and fear of what lies ahead, enabling us to make the best use of the present to create a happy future.
B.K. Usha is a Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Abu Road, Rajasthan.
When we begin to answer the call for spiritual growth, we may search for a long time, looking for the path that resonates with us. Once we have found what we are looking for, the real journey begins.
It is like climbing a mountain. Not daunted in any way, but with delight, enthusiasm, excitement and courage. We often take along a lot more than we really need for the journey. Backpacks filled with attachments, old memories and ideas, and too much equipment that we think we might need. We start at the gentle slopes of the mountain, exhilarated, but carrying too much from the past. However, the spring in our step sends us onwards.
As we move slowly upwards, we appreciate how little we really need, and many of the items in the backpack are happily discarded and we begin to move more freely and with confidence. There is even time to look around and notice the other mountaineers. One mistake at this point is to start comparing our ascent with that of others. Spiritual mountaineers are not climbing the same mountain. Each one is climbing their own mountain. Each mountain is part of an immense and beautiful mountain range. Some mountains are higher than others, but to each mountaineer – the summit is the summit. The beauty of that is that climbers on other mountains can look over to us and wave encouragement, or signal something up ahead. This is because they have a different viewpoint, and if they have moved further upwards on their own mountain, they can see what lies ahead on ours. We can also do the same for others, but only I can climb my mountain.
Climbing mountains is not for the fainthearted. As we get higher, the atmosphere changes, weather conditions are often unstable, and sometimes there are storms that may turn out to be too strong for us. If that should happen, and we hurt ourselves, then we need to rest, find some kind of shelter to deal with any injuries, and regain our strength. We cannot fall off the mountain – it is ours, but we may delay the rise to the summit. However, once rested and with our goal in mind, we can set off again with even more zeal and enthusiasm, yet now with much more wisdom. The most important thing then is to never look back or look down. That part of the ascent is gone, so now, onwards and upwards!
We will know when we are getting close to the summit. The air is so pure and the breeze so refreshing. The storms are way below, and the view is spectacular. There is still need for wisdom and caution because we are not there yet, but only close to the top of the mountain will we find a deep sustaining silence and power, which brings lightness and a kind of bliss.
There is only one guide on this expedition. The ascent is spiritual, so the Guide must also be spiritual. The Guide is full of love and understanding and all I need to do is keep Him in mind at each step. He is always with me, but He has no need to climb. If I consult Him daily and listen to his advice and most importantly, follow it, I will reach the summit safely. I will need to spend time in silence and contemplation during each day’s climb to understand the advice and call upon Him at times of challenge. What a wonderful way to spend a lifetime; reaching the height of all I can be with the companionship of the One Divine Being. Once I reach those heights, I will feel like, and be, the king of my mountain.
Jane Kay is a university teaching fellow in the UK, and a Rajyoga teacher.
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