Monday, November 21, 2011

Mantra for Beginners -- VII

Where does Philosophy fit into this? In Hinduism religion is philosophy and philosophy is religion. They cannot  be separated. When you are in your teens and look at the people doing Pooja, prayers and Japa and find that superstitious (we tend to call what we do not believe or understand as superstition), you are attracted by Philosophy. Later you realize that religion is the practice and philosophy the theory/principle behind the practice. Sanskrit terms like Karma, Klesha , Samsara etc. makes you wonder whether you can make any spiritual progress. Later when you do Sadhana and want to know the theory or the principle behind this you understand these terms.

In the 60s in the Hippie Era LSD was often used by young people who wanted a new experience. As anyone who has used LSD will tell you it is an unforgettable experience. But whether the experience was most pleasant or nerve shattering varied from person to person. We knew what precautions to take having learnt by experience. Even now drugs are used in Spiritual Sadhana. But smoking Hashish or pot is not the way to spiritual Sadhana. The risk is not worth it and the effect is only temporary.

All this heavy stuff is written because many of us seem to believe that there is a short cut or an instant way to spirituality. In the days of Instant coffee and Instant Tea we want Instant Nirvana, Instant Mukthi, Instant Brahman. Unfortunately this is not possible. (if one of my young and impetuous friends ask what about Bagavan Ramana Maharishi or Bagavan Sri Ramakrishna, my answer is such people one in a billion.) If  anyone claims about Instant Kundalini and you fall for it, you are surely in Instant trouble. Years back we used to know a professor of Psychology who was specializing in Parapsychology. He was doing a research on Tantra, various systems of meditation, prayers and other rituals. His comment on some of the forms of meditation was " pure torture". (Unfortunately like all nutty professors I do not think he ever published his findings).

So Pooja, Japa, Meditation, Kundalini Yoga, choose a path, which is suitable for you. Do not be led by the so-called superiority of one path over the other. Before deciding finally learn all about the path, its effects, advantages, disadvantages, risks involved etc. At the same time do not be unduly frightened by the risks. You should take a risk because the reward that you get by spiritual progress is worth it. But it should be a calculated and thought out risk.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mantra for Beginners -- VI

In my earlier messages I had equated Mental Japa to meditation. I saw recently that some one had called this Dhyana Yoga. The Art and science of Meditation. I was talking about how in India we generally proceeded from rituals to meditation. In Tantra this process is emphasized. The initiates are classified according to their levels. You proceed gradually from one process to the other. Some of the more esoteric Sadhanas are meant for only advanced initiates. You proceed from the form to the formless. Tantras are basically instruction manuals. They tell you how to proceed. Again in Tantra we specifically forbid anyone to act without a Guru.

We are not discussing Tantra now. I am only drawing a parallel. There is a lot of interest in Yahoo groups and the different forums to know about advanced Tantrik Sadhana like Smasana  Sadhana, Sava Sadhana, and five Ms. But after trying to answer some of the curious people I realized that without explaining the basic philosophy of Tantra and the pre-requisite qualifications, talking about these Sadhanas will be only vetting the appetite of the curious and......

Talking about the pre -requisites, there is a Sadhana, which you might be familiar with, called Jala Sadhana. You stand in water (preferably in a holy river) up to your neck in water and meditate or do mantra Japa for hours. But do you know what happens to your body? Cramps ! I was discussing this with a Tantrik friend. He said he had to be almost hospitalized as the body had become so stiff. We talk about Smasana  Sadhana or worship in the graveyard/cremation ground. Leave alone Sadhana, do you have the courage to spent hours in the middle of the night in a Graveyard? And how do you ensure that the police do not arrest you? Even in India you will be.

Meditation being the highest form of Sadhana also gives very quick results. Scientific studies have clearly proved the effects of Meditation on the body. So it is but natural that everyone is attracted to meditation. Again this does not have the dogma of ritualistic or idol worship.

Now the entire spiritualistic practices of Hinduism are a synthesis of many aspects. You want to do meditation or even Japa for 1 hour. How do sit still for one hour. Your legs start feeling numb after 20 minutes. How do you concentrate for 3 to 4 hours or more than that, if your body does not cooperate? That is why Hatha yoga was considered an essential part of Hinduism. Again if you have training in Pranayama it is much easier to meditate.

Maa Kundalini or Kundalini Sakthi resides in everyone. We all have the Chakras. All spiritual practices right from Pooja, Japa, Meditation has an effect on Kundalini. In Tantra we call SriVidya, pure Kundalini Yoga. All Tantrik practices have their basis in Kundalini Yoga. I had asked my Guru before my initiation about Kundalini. He said with Mantra Japa your Kundalini will automatically be raised. With meditation the Kundalini raises much faster. The raising of the Kundalini again depends on the Mantra. Even with a Nirguna mantra you cannot prevent or control your Kundalini from rising.

Since with meditation it raises much faster the effects may not be what you had anticipated. For most of us Kundalini Sakthi is at different levels. So the effect of meditation will be different. Though the road is smoother at 80 mph than at twenty mph because the car feels the bumps less, if you hit a wall the effects are much more serious than at 20 mph. You may find an explanation in Kundalini Yoga about what is happening to you.

Mantra for Beginners -- V

The different kinds of Japa are

1. Vaikhari Japa (audible)
2. Upamsu Japa (whispering)
3. Manasika Japa (mental)
4. Likhita Japa (written)

In Tantra a lot of emphasis is laid on Japa. For attaining Mantra Siddhi you have to do Japa of the mantra a particular number of times. But it is not that you stop with that. You are expected to do constant Mantra Japa so that the Mantra becomes part of you. The Mantra is always running in your mind. In Tantra the rituals are necessary for only the main Japa when you count. But otherwise you are free to do Mantra Japa without any restrictions.

The same attitude is taken in Nama Japa also where the Nama becomes part of you. Here here is no emphasis on the count. Still many traditions insist that you should do minimum number of times per day. This is to ensure that you do it regularly. It is good if you decide the minimum number that you will recite per day.

In Japa you progress from Audible Japa to Mental Japa over a period of time.

There is very little difference between Mental Japa and Meditation

Most of the Hindus know about prayers, and Nama Japa well, as these are part of the daily ritual. Though the term Dhyana (Meditation) is known, wherever it is mentioned Dhyanam we just said Dhyanam or recited what is called Dhyana Sloka of the Deity.

Meditation as is now known was only for the very few. I have not heard of anyone doing meditation in my village full of Brahmins. Meditation was associated with Tapas, which meant that it was beyond the reach of the common man. Because meditation was equated almost with Tapas, only those Hindus who were deeply spiritual took to meditation. Mostly these were Sanskrit scholars and students of Philosophy.

Meditation became popular in India mainly due to Bagavan Sri Ramakrishna, Bagavan Ramana Maharshi and Swami Sivananda. However it is still largely confined to the English knowing population. In India Bhakthi and rituals are considered superstition by the English educated intellectual class. Many of these people took to Meditation.

When my father was a student of Swami Sivananda in the early 50s what he learnt was mainly Hatha Yoga, Japa and Hindu Philosophy. Swami Sivanananda's books give a lot of emphasis on Japa. Even In Hatha Yoga though we were taught all the Asanas, we were asked to do only Sirasasana , Sarvanghasana and other simple asanas daily. Even Sirasasana was to be done only if it suited you. Again Pranayama was learnt only through an experienced teacher. Sri. Kali Ghosh who was my teacher was very particular that I follow all the rules and also checked my progress regularly.

Though the development was like this in India, in the west it was the other way around. Meditation became almost synonymous with Hinduism. I saw someone writing that Meditation is Hinduism.

When we attend a course in Mountaineering, you are first taught rock climbing and then taught how to climb small mountain peaks. You do not expect to climb Mount Everest just by attending one Mountaineering course. You become proficient in rock climbing, climb a couple of peaks in the Alps, and then try the minor peaks in the Himalayas before attempting Mount Everest. Even in that I can never progress as fast as a man from Ghatwal because he is from the mountains and his heart is already accustomed to heights.

The reason why I am writing all this is that I find that, though in India we progressed slowly from prayer to Meditation over a period of years, most people in the west are directly initiated into meditation. It is my view that for most people it is like trying to climb Mount Everest without ever having done even rock climbing. Many of the instructions given for spiritual aspirants by Swami Sivanananda have been part and parcel of our daily life for generations.

Am I saying that all the courses in Meditation are fake? Definitely not. But if you are in New York and you attend a course in Rishikesh India you may have problems. If you stay in Rishikesh for six months then you have a better chance of success. Even then when you come back to New York you may have problems and you would not have anyone to discuss your problems. During my last visit to Dharamshala I found that for there are many people from outside India who come there regularly. These are people who are very serious students and practioners of Buddhism.

Similarly we find many people visiting India regularly. Even Swamijis who have reached great heights visit India regularly for spiritual regeneration.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ishta Devata -- II

If you are born a Hindu and grew up in India you worship a number of Gods and Goddesses. But the path of spirituality is through Japa/Mantra/Meditation. If you do Japa of many different Gods, it is not effective. Also the first step in spirituality is the realization that God is one. Who is this one God? Your Ishta Devata. Then you do Japa of that God with Mantra. As the mantras vary depending on the God, you choose the Mantra of the Ishta Devata. In meditation and Japa you have to visualize the form of the God. So you visualize the form of your Ishta Devata.

One God -- with form -- without form

Though many people may not even know the term Ishta Devata the process of progress in spirituality is the same. There are people who do not have an Ishta Devata and learn the mantras of many Gods. This fritters away your energy making it more difficult to reach a higher stage.

The whole process is about raising of the Kundalini Sakthi (Consciously or otherwise).

Choose a God/Goddess known to you. The process of visualization is also simpler.

We have a music season every year in Madras during which there are a number of Carnatic (south Indian Classical) music concerts. Some years back a Catholic Nun became our friend as she also attends these  concerts regularly. Carnatic music is basically Bhakthi. When we were discussing the music the nun told us that her Ishta Devata is Lord Jesus and her Sadhana is through Carnatic music.

Hindus in India come to know about the different gods and Goddesses through the family and environment. But they also learn by visiting temples and through books/magazines. Books are a major source of information. The more gods you know about the more difficult the process of selection.

As per the classical texts the Guru selects the Ishta Devata if you do not have one. The process of selection also includes Astrology. You should be extremely fortunate to get a Guru like that.

I feel that I should have used the term "the ultimate principle" instead of God. Your Ishta Devata is the ultimate principle. Since it is easier to go from form to formless, you choose a form for the Ishta Devata.

We have misunderstandings when it is not realised that the ultimate principle is the Ishta Devata. When I say MAA KAALI is Brahman or Lord Krishna is Brahman it only means that the ultimate principle is in the form of MAA KAALI or Lord Krishna. Since I am comfortable with a form with compassion, love etc. I imagine MAA to be like that though I do realize that, since she is Brahman she is Nirguna. This is in conformity with my reasoning of going from Bhakthi Marga to Jnana Marga.

You concentrate on only one form at a time. To explain this I have to use the term Upasana. I am more comfortable with this term than with Sadhana.

Your Ishta Devata is your Upasana murthi. Though you may worship many Gods there should be only one Upasana murthi. I was warning about doing Upasana of many murthis at the same time. You may change your Upasana murthi depending on many factors. There is no harm in that. It does happen often.

Meditation requires concentration. You concentrate on the form of your Ishta Devata. Even for meditation on the formless many Gurus suggest imagining sky with a bird flying or open ocean.

Many people collect mantras like stamps. They also start Upasana of many Gods simultaneously. This leads to frittering of energy.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mantra for Beginners -- IV --Purgatory Mantras

There are some Mantras which are intensively purgatory in nature. These mantras purge you of your past karmas, attachments and whatever stands in the way of your achieving salvation. But to the ordinary person who is still attached to material things, the process of purging will come as a shock. Many people after practicing these Mantras complain that bad things are happening in their life like loss of a job, estrangement with close relatives, friends, loss of material things etc. etc. What they fail to understand is that this is a way of paying your karmic debts and getting rid of attachments.

In the case of all Mantras this sort of things happen. I know a person who received initiation from the Swamiji in Ramakrishna math. But he had so many problems that he approached the Math for giving up his Mantra. I do not know what happened there. But what I do know is that he went all the way to Varanasi from Kerala to give up his Mantra. The changes brought about by Mantra japa or meditation may not be always acceptable to the family and friends. I find parents complaining about the effect of mantra on their children and colleagues complain about the effect on their co-workers. In Mantra Sasthra, which is Tantrik, there are no Saguna or Nirguna Mantras. This division is Vedantic. Even the division of Spiritual and non-spiritual mantras is artificial.

The path to the ultimate is not an easy one.

In the words of Swami Yatiswarananda (Meditation and Spiritual Life - Ramakrishna math. Bangalore)
"Spiritual evolution at first brings great suffering to the aspirant, not happiness. In the intermediate stages his life becomes very difficult. Then he has no longer any real interest in what he has in the world, and cannot yet obtain self-realisation, which is still beyond his reach. It is just like hanging in mid-air without being able to go up or down. "
Again in Swamiji's words
" We should look upon it as a great fortune that, for some reason or the other, our mind possesses an  attraction for the higher and eternal things, and should see that we steadily and gradually proceed along the higher path, never flagging till we reach the goal. Our spiritual fervour is to be maintained, but we very often run the risk of becoming slack. Thus spiritual striving stops in most people after they have taken to the spiritual life for a certain time. Their minds are too restless and too outgoing to keep up this spiritual fervour and intensity for a long time, and to go on steadily and doggedly with their spiritual practice, reading, and studies. So we should be on our guard. Dogged tenacity is the one thing needed for spiritual life. All progress can only be had through great steadiness and tenacity, never allowing ourselves to flag or to become lukewarm. "
In India where we are very fond of our mad monks, such people who do not seem normal are accepted. I know of many seekers in all margas who cannot be called normal by the strict definition of normalcy. We call them God Crazy. But tolerance and acceptance is part of the Indian psyche. I have known many Sanskrit scholars, mathematicians, and religious people who would have been committed to an institution in other countries. I do not understand why there are more crazy professors in Sanskrit and mathematics whereas we rarely find one in Economics.

But then in this crazy world everyone is crazy. Power crazy, Money crazy, Fame crazy or God crazy.

Jai MAA !!!


Mantra for Beginners -- III

I have been posting messages about Mantras with the aim of demystifying Mantras. I was talking about Sri Sri Chandi only to point out that there is a lot of difference between the books and practice. I do not know how people started reading Sri Sri Chandi. But I know about Soundharya Lahari. This was not read by many people in the south because of the restrictions imposed. But in the early 70s The Kanchi Kamakoti Peetathipathi told his followers that there is no restriction in reading the text, and that it is extremely beneficial if Housewives recite it. So Soundharya Lahari became very popular.

Again Gayatri mantra was supposed to be only for the upper castes who receive Upadesa. But then Swami Dayananda Saraswathi (founder of Arya Samaj) removed all restrictions on this mantra. Now it has even become a cinema song.

Excepting a few Tantrik mantras other mantras do not cause any harm. It is only said that the effect may not be as dramatic as it is when it is recited properly. 

You know there are mantras in languages other than Sanskrit. I know many mantras in Tamil and Hindi. My Diksha Guruji gives initiation of mantras in Tamil. I know of Muslim magicians who use Arabic and Persian mantras. These mantras called Sabar Mantras by Dr. P.R. Tigunait the spiritual head of the Himalayan institute. (Disciple of Swami Rama). His classification of mantras is

Meditative mantras
Contemplative mantras
Siddha Mantras
Maha Mantras
Apta mantras
Sabar mantras

Malas have an effect on their own. This is independent of the mantras. Generally Saivites and Sakthas use Rudraksha and Vaishnavites use Tulsi. Tibetans use wooden malas. Counters have become popular for mantra japa. They are used when you have to do Japa thousands of times. Counters are used by Hare Krishna Devotees. I have used a counter.

Namah is a declamation used at the end of a Nama in Archana or in the middle in a mantra.
Example- Om Sri Rajarajeswaryai Namah - Namavali
Om Namo Bagavathe Vasudevaya - Mantra.
Swaha is used generally when giving an oblation into the fire in Homa. It is also used in a mantra at the end. Swaha is a name of MAA. There are other interpretations as well.

Friends who are keen on furthering their knowledge of Mantras can refer to the book Understanding Mantras -Edited by Harvey P. Alper - This book contains 10 research articles on the subject.

Jai MAA !!!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mantra Siddhi? What is it? - IV

Now where does this leave the Spiritual seekers?

Mantra Siddhi has no relevance to Spiritual seekers.

There are many Mantras which give only spiritual powers. The Taraka Mantram is that which enables its invokers to cross over the ocean of samsara and attain liberation. Then almost all the other Mantras have also ability to take the Sadhaka towards his/her spiritual goal.

The Spirtual seeker has no necessity for Prayogam or application. The Mantra automatically takes you to a higher level. When you chant the name of Krishna or Rama or Devi you are not thinking of Siddhis or powers. You are seeking GOD.

Does it mean that spiritual seekers will not get Siddhi?

NO. The spiritual seeker also gets Siddhis.

The Ashtama Siddhi and its achievement are quite different. Of course there are Siddhis other than Ashtma Siddhi. Things like the body glowing, getting younger, hair growing on bald head and so on. Many of these powers are bestowed without even asking for it. I have heard of a person who had attained a power which ensured that all the flowers he offered the Deity fell on the Deity in the form of a garland. May be years of practice. The other common Siddhis are the power of healing and clairvoyance.

Is getting Siddhis an obstacle to Spirtual Progress?

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is always a likelihood of a Sadhaka getting Siddhi or Power forgetting his/her spiritual goals. 

That is how we see many Sadhus and Holy men who have stopped pursuing their spiritual goals after attaining Siddhi/Siddhis. We also see Holy men who have Siddhis and who continue in their Spirtual paths without bothering about the Siddhis. 

Another feature of Mantra siddhi is that it does have a tendency to make one proud. Pride in achivement. This bloats the EGO. We have all seen many Sadhus and Holymen who are full of SELF IMPORTANCE. This is a big impediment to Spirtual Progress.

Then the Power of Healing and Clairvoyance can lead to the seeker forgetting his/her ultimate goals. They become Heelers and Clairvoyants. Because these powers lead to an increase in popularity (Fame) and also could lead to prosperity, the ultimate goal is forgotten.

None of these fault of the Siddhi but of the Seeker.

It is better for Spiritual Seekers to keep off Mantra Siddhi. Lead us not into temptations, My Lord.

Total and absolute surrender is the only way of achieving the lotus feet of GOD.

शरणागत दीनार्त परित्र्याण परायणे।
सर्वस्यार्तिहरे देवि 
नारायणि नमोऽस्तु ते। 

तां ढुर्गां दुर्गमां देवीं दुराचारविघातिनीम् ।
नमामि भवभीतोऽहं संसारार्णवतारिणीम् ।

Jai MAA !!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mantra for Beginners -- II

Someone in the forum had asked about Devi Mahatmyam. The following was my response. This was again posted in 2001.

You had said about Devi Mahatmya and other hymns. Devi Mahatmya is considered to be the supreme text of many Saktha Sampradhayas. To even read Devi Mahatmyam you need Adhikara or right, which can be given only by a Tantrik guru. Again there are rituals and laid down procedures for even reading Devi Mahatmyam. This is emphasized in all texts. For the full details of the rituals of reading Devi Mahatmyam you can see the book Sri Chandi by Swami Sathyananda Saraswathi. The text by the Gita Press also gives the rituals and contains a warning not to read it without Adhikara. To get over these restrictions Sri Sri Chandi was translated into Bengali long time back. The Sthudhis can be said without any restriction.

Similarly very strict rules have been laid down for reading Soundharya Lahari.

But these rules have been given a go by in the case of Soundharya Lahari in South India. This has started happening in the case of Devi Mahatmyam also.

This has started happening in the case of mantras also. Mantras have ceased to be the exclusive privilege of the few. In India you can get any mantra from a book or magazine. People have also started reciting even esoteric mantras.

I reproduce a part of my message in another club

" Fortunately in the last few years the irrational fear of Mantras has begun to disappear among common people due to the efforts of many saints, scholars and popular magazines. There are magazines in Tamil "Bhakthi" and "Anmeekam" and also in Hindi, which have started giving one Mantra every month, sometimes with the Yantra also. I was  surprised to see that a magazine came out with MAA DHOOMAVATHI Mantra a couple of months back stating that it is very good for general prosperity. Then I realized that I am having a wrong conception of MAA DHOOMAVATHI because of her image. She is MAA and will reward

All books on mantra contain a warning that mantras should not be said without the guidance of a Guru. In fact some of them in English even disclaim any responsibility if anything goes wrong. According to Mantra Sasthra there are millions of mantras. But not all of them are listed in books. Many mantras have been forgotten. Many remain the exclusive property of some families.

There is no standardization even in important mantras. For example there is one mantra with two Beeja mantras. There are many different ways of reciting the same mantra.

1. Mantra alone.
2. Mantra preceded by Om
3.Mantra with Om followed at the end with Swaha
4. Mantra without Om but with Swaha.
5. The two Beeja mantras repeated once.
6. Beeja mantras repeated twice.

And so on.

So you see the same mantra in different permutations and combinations. The exact mantra will depend on the tradition of the Guru.

There is no generalization or classification of mantras as safe or otherwise.

About the pronunciation of the mantras different views prevail. Some insisting on proper pronunciation. But this is a puritanical view. I have known many Tantriks with Siddhis whose pronunciation of Sanskrit leaves a lot to be desired. With no two Indians agreeing about whose pronunciation of Sanskrit is correct, this is a difficult subject.

I give below the words of Buddhist Govinda

"If the efficacy of the mantras depended upon their correct pronunciation, then all the mantras in Tibet would have lost their meaning and power, because they are not pronounced according to the rules of Sanskrit, but according to the phonetic laws of the Tibetan language (for instance not: OM MANI PADME HUM but OM MANI Peme HUM) 
This means that the power and the effect of the Mantra depend on the spiritual attitude, the knowledge and responsiveness of the individual. The sabda or sound of the Mantra is not a physical sound (though it may be accompanied by such a one) but a spiritual one. It cannot be heard by the ears but only by the heart, and it cannot be uttered by the mouth but only by the mind."
Filtered through Brooklynese, uttered as a Bronx cheer, whispered in an East Texas drawl, OM is always OM - or it isn't. "
About the effect of Mantras on Kundalini and how they work a lot of research has been done. But we have not seen any conclusive evidence.

Mantra Sasthra is a vast subject. You keep on learning. The book "Understanding mantras" from Motilal Banarsidass is a good book.

My Gurus told me that "MAA is your Ultimate Guru. You seek her permission to recite any Mantra."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mantra for Beginners -- I

Originally posted in 2011

Today I was reading a book on advanced techniques in Kundalini Yoga. When my son took that book I warned him that it is not for him now. Then I made a remark that even books on spirituality and religion should be marked for beginners, for Intermediate level and advanced level. This is done in all books on computer programming languages because an advanced level book will not make any sense to beginners and a book for beginners will sound silly for advanced programmers. He replied that it couldn't be done in spirituality and religion, as noone will accept that he is a beginner in religion or spirituality. 

Most of the books on religion and spirituality are written mainly for advanced level people. Namely renunciates and adepts. So adepts, renunciates and spiritually advanced people may find my messages silly.

Now that the statutory warning is given, here I go.

I was going through the messages on Mantra, gurus, Japa, Nama Japa over the last six months. I started wondering how come we all read the same books, but understand differently. Again how come great people like Swami Sivananda and others emphasize the role of the Guru and also say you can choose your mantra without a Guru? Om is a mantra, which every Hindu recites almost daily in one form or the other. My son when he was 3 years old used to call the priest in his Grandfather's house OM mama. (Om uncle) because most of the time he was reciting OM..... We have so many messages about its effect and whether you need a Guru. (I also sent a couple of IMs).

Then suddenly eureka! It struck me. The term Mantra means different things to different people. I will take an example. Mantra Yoga is sometimes seen as part of Nada Yoga. The effect of the Mantra is due to the effect of the sound produced. I do not think there is any difference of opinion about this. If this is so how does Nama japa work? Again the effect of sound. So where is the difference between Nama and Mantra. We talk about the effect of hymns and prayers. Again the effect of sound. There are many Hymns and prayers, which are considered Mantras. The entire Devi Mahatmyam is considered to be a single mantra or a garland of 700 mantras. The four Sthudhis (prayers) are considered to be mantras. In Soundharya Lahari every stanza is considered to be a mantra. In the Vishnu Sahashranama some of the verses used as mantras give certain effects like improving memory, .... etc. We used to recite these verses when we were young for improving our performance in examinations. Rama Nama is considered to be a great mantra. (Phalasthudhi of Vishnu Sahasranama ) Maharshi Valmikhi became a Maharshi by reciting Mara, Mara.

The entire Vedic recitation was considered mantra. We have marriage mantras, Upanayana mantras and mantras for all samskaras.

So all hymns, prayers, and Namas are also mantras. The common perception that only exoteric, Tantrik and Vedantic mantras are mantras is wrong.

Where does Mantra Sasthra fit in here? Mantra Sasthra also talks about mantras for getting powers other than spiritual. We are talking now only about mantras for spiritual advancement.

Once we accept that all these are mantras then we begin to understand Swami Sivananda.

It has always been difficult to get good Gurus. If everyone waited to get a Guru before taking the first steps towards spirituality, there will be very few spiritual people in the world. Since it is never too early to begin, we are taught hymns, prayers, Namas. It is not that you cannot achieve the Ultimate with these mantras. Swami Ramdass (sage of Kananghad) had only one mantra "Sri ram jai Ram Om". He spent years searching for a Guru. In the end his father initiated him into this mantra. Saint Chaithanya Maha Prabhu was an embodiment of the Krishna nama. Even In Vedanta philosophical truths like Tatwamasi and Aham Brahma Asmi are used as mantras.

How come we differentiate between Mantras, hymns, prayers, and Namas? Of course hymns and prayers are poetry. May be it is because Mantras other than Vedic mantras have come to be associated with Black Magic in the minds of the general public. In most of the Indian languages mantra means magic. In Tamil Tantra means trick. So may be people avoided using the term Mantra.

Hymns in Soundharya Lahari have their own separate Yantras and rituals which being purely Tantrik are difficult to learn without a proper guru. Vedic recitation is almost impossible without proper training under a Guru. But Rama Nama does not need a guru. So whether you need a Guru or not depends on the Mantra.

I will deal with Japa and meditation in my next post because here again we have a difference between common perception and actual practice.

About Posts in this Blog

Remarks about my mesages.

Bagavan Sri Ramakrishna said that one should never teach until he has been given a Divine message to teach. I am not teaching anything. It so happens, that I have a lot of doubts about a whole lot of things. I have taken to the habit of writing my doubts and then trying to find answers by referring to various books and thinking about them.

If you have friends who are on the spiritual path you can discuss these doubts. What we call Sathsang. But I have not been fortunate to have such friends in town.

Thanks to the Internet I have such friends now. My messages are my thoughts, as religion is my full time work. With friends you have a dialogue. If I expect my friends to agree with whatever I say I would
not have any friends. If my friends do not respond, it becomes a monologue. So Friends the ball is in your court.

Jai MAA !!!

Ishta Devata -- I

Choosing an Ishtadevata is similar to choosing a husband/wife/companion/friend. You ask a person why he or she chose someone as a husband/wife/companion; he or she might give you some answers. But basically you fall in love with someone and then try to justify your selection. We can try to rationalize our decision but cannot do it completely. It is a decision of the heart. It is something called Love. You choose your Ishta Devata out of love. It is a decision of the heart. The intellect does not play a major role in the selection. That is the reason we end up by saying MAA chose me. Don't we end all discussions about the choice of our lover by saying I fell in Love. Period.

But there is a basic difference. Here the love could be Mathru bhava, Pithru bhava, Vathsalya bhava etc, depending upon how you view your Ishta Devata as Mother, father, child, friend, lover etc.

However we can analyze the reasons for choosing a particular deity as Ishta Devata.

1. In most of the cases the Deity whom you have known from childhood is the Ishta Devata. If you have played with Krishna idols in childhood most likely Krishna will be your Ishta Devata. Krishna is I think the most popular God as Ishta Devata as we believe that Krishna is our friend. We look at his pictures as Bala Krishna and feel comfortable with him rather than with Siva who is always a father figure.

2. The family deity is another choice. Again a question of familiarity.

3. It is said that "For a child Mother is GOD." So many people are drawn towards Goddesses.

4. Many people who are devotees of Bagavan Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa also become devotees of  MAA BHAVATHARINI. Since you read so much about her that over a period of time she becomes your Ishtadevata.

5. Many people are attracted to MAA KAALI because there is no caste distinction in most of her temples. MAA KAALI/ MAA Durga is the favourite Goddess of all revolutionaries because of their association with overcoming the forces of evil.

Recently I was talking to a converted Hindu from Europe. She said that she saw a photograph of a Hindu goddess in a shop and immediately felt that this is her deity.

You always hear of the classical theory of the three gunas. Satwik, Rajasaik, Tamasik. People and gods are again classified according to the gunas. The theory says you choose the gods according to the gunas to which you belong. This theory looks good, but in practice it becomes irrelevant. MAA KAALI is the popular Goddess in Bengal. She is very popular among the so-called lower castes in South India. Do we conclude that all Bengalis and South Indians who worship MAA KAALI are Tamasik or Rajasaik in nature? Was Bagavan Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Tamasik or Rajasaik in nature?

We worship our Ishtadevata as the Ultimate power. This has no gunas. Nirguna. That is why MAA KAALI is called trigunathmikai. So we can safely discard this theory of Gunas ascribed to Gods/Goddesses.

So you choose your Ishtadevata as one whom you fall in love with. When it happens it will happen. Then you can rationalize your decision. As I said earlier the Ishta Devata could mean mother, father, child, friend etc. depending upon your feeling. Psychologists have written so many books trying to explain why we fall in love with someone or why we choose our friends. But I do not think there is a perfect answer. Again the concept of Ishta Devata is basically Tantrik. The Smarthas (I was born one) do not believe in this. But most people have a favourite god. Only that most of the Hindus do not use the term Ishta Devata. Your favourite God becomes your Ishta Devata.

I remember one of friends in a Yahoo group saying that even in spirituality, everything has to be logical. I do not think we can rationalize decisions of the heart. The decisions are not always logical.

It is not necessary to have an Ishtadevata for spiritual or religious Sadhana. But if you look into your heart you will find your Ishta devata. Other than Ishta Devata, you have Kula Devata, Grama Devata etc.


Religion and Spirituality

This was posted by me in 2001. I am still searching for an answer.

Sometime back a friend of mine asked me a question that set methinking. He asked me about a person who we all knew to be a person who bore malice towards one and all and more harm he did to people around him the happier he felt. His wife deserted him being unable to stand his cruelty.

He was thoroughly disliked by everyone. But this man used to visit the Temple everyday, perform Poojas, even used to deliver lectures to the public on Bhagavath Geeta. He was also quite successful in his career.

We see nowadays a lot of people who have become famous and rich by selling religion and more often Vedanta to top executives in posh hotels. I had attended a couple of programmes on Stress Management, which included sessions on Vedanta and Meditation.

On the face of it this looks very bad to a serious Devotee and a Spiritual aspirant. But the question is it so?

To find an answer we have to see what is religion and what is spirituality.

Religion is a set of beliefs and practices. To put it better it is a set of practices based on a set of beliefs.

People tend to be religious for a variety of reasons.

To get something done with divine help. To attain Moksha or Heaven. To attain happiness. To get spiritual elevation.

The meaning of Spiritual is given in the Oxford Dictionary as "of the spirit or soul, of religion, not of material things." The most important thing here is the meaning not of material things. This meaning that spiritual is not of material things is universally accepted.

Now if we say that only people who give up material things are spiritual, we will be totally wrong. It is not the acquisition of material things, which is wrong, but attachment to them. 

But do we stop here? If all spiritual people give up their worldly attachments and go off into the forest or Ashram how does it benefit humanity? I believe that having been born a man we have an obligation to do something for the betterment of humanity. That is why we talk about doing good deeds. I would consider a person to be spiritual only when he not only gives up his worldly attachments and but also does something to spread happiness in the world and also does not do any harm to his fellow living things. Bagavan Sri Ramakrishna was born intothis world for two purposes. One to prove by personal example that the real Hindu religion is the acceptance of all religions and two to guide his Disciples who will change the entire face of the world with their messages.

But the question here is between either being spiritual or religious. As I said people tend to be religious for four reasons. But if we are religious for getting material benefit, to attain Moksha, to achieve Happiness for ourselves, Nirvana and realise parabrahman (I do not know what this means. It is beyond my comprehension) then we are
religious and not spiritual.

But if we do something for the good of others, not harm other living things, spread the knowledge around then we become spiritual. Fortunately the world has been blessed with a lot of such good Samaritans. I do not know how many of you have heard of Dr. Dooly an American Doctor who was born into a rich family and who one fine morning decided to throw it all away and go to Laos, live in miserable conditions and serve the poor people. Dr.
Dooly was spiritual not religious. Now a Sannyasin may give up his worldly attachments and go into the forest and attain Moksha. But he is not spiritual since he has not served humanity.

The only saying of Swami Vivekananda, which I always remember is "Service to Humanity is service to God".

Am I saying that being religious is wrong? No. All of us cannot be like Dr. Dooly. Practice of all religions especially Hinduism makes a person progress towards spirituality. Having been a Hippie (The flower people of the sixties) and having moved very closely with many of them (from materially advanced nations), I know what materialism
can do to your soul? But does it mean rejection of material comforts? Definitely not. As long as we think materialism is not the end of all of our life, there is always hope for us. The very fact that we come to the internet and discuss spirituality means that there is a yearning in us for doing something.

Talking about giving up material things, even Sannyasins find it difficult to give up two things. One is fame and the other hearing others praising us. That is why find great Gurus vying with each other for Fame. Then they get trapped in the praise of their Disciples and get caught in the Maya and forget the purpose of their life.

I was talking about a religious person earlier. He became successful because of his Bhakthi. He conducted courses in Bhagavad-Gita because it brought him fame. But even then he might become spiritual because of the benefit the others got because of his lectures in Bhagavad-Gita, if he stops harming others. The Swamiji who gives discourses in posh hotels to the rich and famous thinks that he is doing a great service by trying to turn them spiritual. May be he is right.

The entire purpose of writing this posting is to make you think. We may be Bhakthas, Saadhaks, Saadhikas, Tantrics, Mantrics, and Siddhas. But until and unless we do good to others and stop causing harm to other living things we cannot consider ourselves to be spiritual.