The Real Art of Human Alchemy- II
(Translation of a discourse on “Paras Ko Chhukara Sona Banane Ka Tarika”
– Continued from previous issue)
God, the Almighty creator and ruler of the universe, the Omnipresent Supreme power, doesn’t need your worship, offerings or paeans and prayers. Then why are you supposed to worship (puja) the deity and chant HIS names and hymns of HIS praise? Well, the practices of SHaTkarma, puja, and japa, prayer etc are part of the purification process before real Upasana2.
Your rituals of worship are simply to condition your mind, to control its constant flickering, to engage it in something sacred and serene, to remind it of the divine presence. Your japa1 is meant to purify and immerse your mind in the beatifying thoughts and feelings of divinity. It is like washing a cloth before dyeing it. If you try to color a dirty cloth, it won’t absorb the dye, whatever its color be. You need to use a clean piece. Have you seen a farmer’s hard labor in the fields? Before sowing the seeds he has to plough it thoroughly, clear off all the shrubs, wild growth and useless vegetation, etc. How will the crop grow if the soil is full of stones and other things? It can’t. So you see the painstaking labor of cleaning, ploughing, making the fields suitable for sowing the seed is unavoidable. Harvesting the crop or enjoying the fruits of upasana – sadhana3 are far more difficult. Sustained efforts of self-purification are prerequisite to these spiritual tasks.
Digging and laying stout foundation is essential before constructing a building. Have you seen any house without a foundation? The practices of pancakarma we are taught in Gayatri sandhya followed by mantra-japa are initial steps of upasana. These are like laying the foundation for our spiritual ascent.
As part of the rituals of worship, we offer oblation (water) to the Sun God. This way we pay our reverence to the divine powers. More importantly, with the chanting of the ‘suryarghya’ mantra at this time, we are supposed to dedicate our ego, our false self- identity. As the small amount of water offered before the Sun evaporates and gets spread in the space, our selfishness, petty desires, tiny existence should also transform into selflessness, altruistic love and all-inclusive awareness. If we only perform the physical activity associated with a ritual without cultivating the feeling associated with it, the ritual would be nothing more than a child’s play. No matter how much water one pours as oblation before the deity, for how many days, there would be no effect if the ritual remains a mere physical activity. If you don’t attempt to identify your selfish tendencies and try to control them, you are making a mockery of this devotional practice. Don’t be a hypocritic ‘devotee’. This way you will shake others’ faith in upasana. It is better to do nothing than such superficial, hypocritical rituals.
Dedication to the deity, to the divine focus (iSHTa devata) of devotion, means the devotee follows HIS disciplines, sacrifices his egotist ambitions and selfish desires to adopt the virtuous ideals that the godhead represents.
Invocation and related rituals of enshrinement of God are not confined to mere uttering of some hymns and respectfully putting the idols or pictures of the deity at the place of worship. Inherent in these are the teaching of setting noble goals of life concordant with the divine qualities symbolized by the idol. The presence of God hidden in your inner self should be invoked. Divinity should be enshrined in your heart, your mind, and your conduct.
Shiva means absolute auspicious welfare, so if Shiva is your iSHTa devata, your life should be dedicated to ensure the welfare of the soul, salvation. If Gayatri is your iSHTa devata then your devotion to HER should mean that the goal of your life is to attain –– illumined wisdom, saintly sensitivity and purity. Indeed your upasana of Gayatri should bestow these spiritual virtues upon you. This means enlightenment of your intellect and chiseled refinement of your personality and moral eminence of your conduct in every dimension of your life. This would brighten, elevate and glorify your worldly life as well.
There is only one meaning of spiritual devotion –– dissolution of the ego, our false self-identity in the infinite glow of the iSHTa devata, transformation and expansion of selfishness and attachment into selflessness, altruistic compassion; unification of the individual self with the Supreme Divine-Self. Upasana is supposed to initiate this preeminent transmutation.
The rituals of worship associated with upasana were devised by our great rishis (seers and sages of the Vedic Age), considering the agile and adaptive nature of the human mind. Every action of the rituals of worship, or any sacrament for that matter, is there to teach us something, to inspire us towards betterment. For example, using water as a means of purification also teaches us to be cool and flowing; that is to be calm, modest and cooperating. Offering flowers to the deity is a symbol of paying reverence. But it also teaches us that our life should also be soft, beautiful and full of soothing fragrance. That means, we should live a happy and loving life with its natural grace, full of good qualities, if it were to receive the honor of being at the feet of the Almighty. Have you ever seen anybody offering dry leafs or hard branches in worship? No. Because it is the flower that has all the natural qualities which, if adopted by you, would beautify your lives too and fill them with the heavenly fragrance of goodness. Your life would flourish with joy, if it is soft and blooming (kind, generous and joyous) like a fresh flower.
Along with flowers, some rice grains, sandalwood powder, etc are also used in worshiping the deities. These are not to decorate the idols or anything, though you definitely feel nice to look at the idols after worship because of all these sacred items put on it artistically. The main purpose behind these is that you should learnt to donate, to sacrifice, a fraction of your earning for the welfare of the needy.
Some other common practices of worship include – lightening dhupa or agarbatti (scent sticks) and dipa (lamp of ghee or oil) and offering some sweets (naivadya), etc. Well, as you might have experienced, the dhupa spreads natural fragrance of flowers. It rejuvenates the mind. Also, it teaches one to disseminate the good qualities without any discrimination or constraint. And why do you light the dipa? Is to illuminate the shrine of the deity? God is the origin of light, of all the powers of Nature. The whole world is HIS shrine. Haven’t you seen HIS uncountable dipas shining in the sky as the Sun, Moon and the stars? Why would HE need your help in getting light? Are you going to show him the path in the darkness? That preeminent source of absolute knowledge is Omniscient. Who are you to show HIM light?
We the mortal beings live in the dark mist of confusions, illusions and ignorance. The dipa symbolizes the spark of knowledge that is required to lighten up our lives. It teaches us that our life should be upward and bright like its flame. It inspires us that we should acquire the light of knowledge from all directions and enlighten ourselves. Its flame burns out all impurity. Similar should be the ‘fire’ of our awakened, trenchant intellect; it should destroy all vices and delusions of our thinking.
Okay! What about the naivaidya? Many so-called ‘devotees’ participate in a puja only to get the naivaidya-sweets distributed as praïada in the end. So it’s clear, who eats it! Obviously, the Lord of the Universe is not waiting for your naivaidya; divine powers are not like ants or somebody who would swarm towards sugar. Well this item of worship is there to teach you to have sweetness in your life and distribute it among others around. Your tongue, your behavior with others should be humble, pleasant and benevolent.
Thus, every ritual, every action associated with worship, as the first phase of upasana, is to induce the feeling of self-refinement, self-training. These aim at “tamaso ma jyotirgamaya” –– may we all be liberated from darkness, ignorance and be guided, towards light, knowledge.
However, if you don’t care to adopt these teachings and don’t even remember the implications of the rituals, your worship will be no better than a child’s act. You may remain engaged in taking care of how many flowers are to be used, how and when to kindle the dipa and what not. Your prayers to see God would be like that of the thief who used to live in a forest. Once upon a time, a saint came there; he used to preach the devotees in the nearby village. This thief also listened to him occasionally. He was curious to know God, who bestows lots of wealth.
One day he went to the saint and prayed that he would also like to see God, if the saint has seen HIM. The saint asked him to come the next day early morning. The thief promptly reached there on time and asked – so now please show me God. The saint smiled and said, we will have to climb the hill to get a sight of the Almighty from its top. Well, both of them began to climb up. After a few steps, the saint told him to pick up four heavy stones, as it was essential as part of some ‘rituals’. The thief did not wait. He happily picked up four quite big and heavy stones and kept them on his head. Then what? He could not climb beyond a few steps, carrying so much weight. He was tired and pleaded with the saint to stop or show him some shortcut. “There is no shortcut to God” – said the saint. But the thief was exhausted, he said – “but, Swamiji, I can’t climb up with so much of weight. Will I never be able to see God?” The saint told him to throw away one stone. Now the thief was slightly relieved. But again as they climbed a little higher he found it impossible to go ahead. Then, as per the Swami’s advice he threw away the second stone.
The journey continued for a few minutes, as there were only two stones now on the thief’s head. But this burden too was heavy for climbing the steeper heights of the hill. Successively he was left with one stone. But by now his neck was paining. The top of the hill was still far away. So he begged –– “Swami ji, I tried to do what you told me. But now the burden of even this single stone appears unbearable to me. Could I please throw this too?” The swami gave him a kind look and said fine! The thief felt so light! He could now climb up to the hill along with the saint. After reaching the top, the saint told him – “When there was burden of four stones on your head, you could not climb up even a few steps on our upward journey towards God. As you threw them away one-by-one, gradually it became easier. Now you have reached the goal I set for you – the top of the hill. Now, I will guide you in your upasana, sadhana, so you will easily find God one day”.
The ‘four stones’ that make it impossible for you to march towards God are – kama (sensual lust), krodha (anger), mada (ego, arrogance) and lobha (avarice). Not only these, we have tied two more heavy ‘stones’ on your head, moha (selfish attachment) and matsar (jealousy and hatred). This burden makes one crazy and he goes on accumulating more of these. So first get rid of these heaps of filth. This is what the rituals of uapasana teach you. Every corner of the house is cleaned on the occasion of Diwali – the festival of Goddess Lakshmi, the deity of prosperity. Cleaning and decoration of the venue are also integral parts of big functions and celebrations, to welcome the guests, who would not like to sit at a dirty, stinking, suffocating place. Then how do you expect God to come near you unless you purify yourself? So if you want to sit near God, you must adopt the disciplines, the teachings associated with upasana.
I should now make it clear to you that the scriptural descriptions of the methods of worship are not mere fanciful flights of primitive brains, nor are they ornamentally gorgeous celebrations in the name of religion. Rather, they are excellent modes of sadhana devised after deeper understanding of human psychology. Moreover, the rituals of SHaTkarmas, invocations, puja, and japa are effective means to pacify all your tensions. Regular practice of these would save you from many of your time-consuming, expensive exercises of ‘stress management’.
If you continue your honest efforts in observing moral values, self-restraint and follow these practices sincerely with mental engrossment in the associated feelings, you would grasp the secret of upasana through the heart. These simple practices would then gradually transform your attitude and tendencies and elevate these to the level of spiritual enlightenment. Deeper practices of japa and meditation thus serve the real purpose of upasana. This is when the real alchemy of your being – spiritual awakening and expansion of your consciousness begins.
1. Japa: Repeated enunciation or mental chanting of a mantra or devotional hymn with deep mental engrossment.
2. Upasana: Devout worship or devotional practice to enable the devotee recall and experience thy-presence within and around him. The word meaning of “upasana” is ‘to sit near’. In simple terms, it is a devotional practice of sitting near God, i.e., having an emotional proximity with divinity that induces awakening of divine qualities hidden in the devotee.
3. Sadhana: Devout spiritual endeavor for self-transmutation.
4. Sadhaka: One who is dedicated to sadhana.
|| OM SHANTI ||