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Unlike every other religion, Hinduism was not founded by any specific person, its origin being that of a divine nature, nor is there a founding date. Scriptures tell us that the Vedas were “seen” (directly experienced) by the Rishis (seers, sages of antiquity) and passed down by an oral tradition (in Sanskrit) for thousands of years before they were written down for the first time. They are considered to be Shruti (revealed text) from which all other Hindu scriptures are derived. The Vedas were compiled over a period of several centuries. According to archeology and astronomy the Rg Veda, the oldest Veda, dates back as far as 10,000-6,000BC. There are four Vedas: Rg, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva.
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Rg means: Praise (in hymnal form)
Sama means: Hymns to be sung (or put to music)
Yajur means: Sacred formulas
Atharva: Is a proper name for a lineage of Rishis
The scope of the Vedas is vast and voluminous, containing thousands of verses, hymns, and chants that deal with every aspect of the human experience, from the most mundane (practical realities of life) to the most lofty (devotion to God and Knowledge of God). The Rg Veda is a collection of 1,028 hymns and 10,600 verses in all, organized into ten books or mandalas.
The Sama Veda is a collection of over 1,500 chants derived from hymns of the Rg Veda applied to a melody. The Yajur Veda is a collection of chants mostly derived from the Rg Veda, used during sacrificial rituals. The Atharva Veda is a collection of 760 hymns, 160 of which are in common with the Rg Veda. The Atharva Veda is the “Knowledge of the Atharvans and Angirasa” (two lineages of Rishis).
Advaita Vedanta, our lineage, deals specifically with the Knowledge portions of the Vedas (the Upanishads).
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Adi Sankara said that “Upanishad” derives from Sanskrit roots that mean near, with certainty, to destroy, to attain, or to loosen. By the word “Upanishad” is denoted the Knowledge of the thing to be known. Knowledge is called “Upanishad” because it destroys the seeds of worldly existence such as ignorance. The Knowledge of Brahman is called “Upanishad” because it makes the seekers of liberation attain the Supreme Brahman. It is that Knowledge which loosens the multitude of miseries. There are 108 Upanishads unevenly distributed throughout the latter portion of each of the four Vedas and hence referred to as Vedanta (highest, final Knowledge---end of the Vedas).
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Advaita (nonduality) reveals the identical nature of one’s self and the Absolute. Vedanta means Knowledge. Thus, Advaita Vedanta is nondual Knowledge of oneself. There exists four approaches to Vedanta teaching, and, although Vedanta means Knowledge, three of the four perspectives adhere to dvaita (duality). The four approaches are: duality, qualified duality, qualified nonduality, and pure nonduality (Advaita). All perspectives, with the exception of Advaita, contain some form of dualism (separation). Advaita Vedanta declares the identity of Brahman and the Self.
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Unqualified dualism is sheer dualism without any exception. The view is that God is one thing and oneself another. The two are regarded as distinct and different in every respect. One practices to establish some relation to God, but there is never union or merger with God. In qualified dualism, the view is that the Self or God is one thing and oneself another, but there is some sameness due to relation. The Self may be regarded as one’s source, just as a spark has fire as its source to which one will eventually return, but it is not regarded as the same as the fire itself. The practice aims at the strengthening of the relation with God. Qualified nondualism, is the view that the Self is of the same nature as oneself. The relation is as a glass of water and the ocean. They are both water but different. The practice is one of attempting merger or union, and the Self is viewed as a greater intelligence and all-pervading presence. In unqualified nondualism, there exists only One Self or God. Union is ever the Reality, as there was never division at any time. All differentiation is regarded as superimposition, imagination, or ignorance. In pure unqualified nondualism (nonduality), there is no embodied individual, and, so, not a world perceived by an individual. The Self, or God, alone exists, eternally. The practice, through Self-inquiry, is to realize the unreality of individuality. Once realized, God alone is.
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Sanatana means everlasting, ancient or eternal. Dharma means Truth, teaching, righteousness, connotes that which supports the universe and effectively means any path of spiritual discipline which leads to God. It is a spiritual discipline that governs all that leads to God. Sanatana Dharma is Eternal Truth
In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. One of the major texts explaining the yogas is the Bhagavad Gita. Its philosophical and historical basis is the Vedas, specifically the Upanishads. The yogas one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life include:
Bhakti Yoga (the path of love)
Karma Yoga (the path of selfless action)
Raja Yoga (the path of meditation)
Jnana Yoga (the path of wisdom)
An individual may prefer one or more yogas over others, according to his or her inclination and understanding. Practice of one yoga does not exclude others. Many schools believe that the different yogas naturally blend into and aid other yogas. For example, the practice of Jnana Yoga, is thought to inevitably lead to pure love (the goal of Bhakti Yoga), and vice versa. Ultimately, the path of Jnana Yoga (the path of Advaita Vedanta), which leads one to the goal in life (Self-Knowledge), in essence, includes all four yogas.
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According to tradition, Hindu society is divided into four castes based upon heredity. They are: Brahminwhich is learned, priestly; Kshatriya which is warrior, statesman; Vaisya which is merchant; Sudra which is laborer. However, in Vedanta which usually negates caste, there is an interior interpretation of the “four castes.” According to this interpretation, everyone’s experience encompasses the “four castes.” These four castes align with the triad of bodies. The Brahmana (Brahmin) is the one who knows Brahman (pure Knowledge). The Causal body is the Kshatriya because it is the destroyer of the following two bodies and is enthroned as the one who rules over them. The subtle body is the Vaisya for it conducts business with the world through the senses, prana, mind, & intellect. The gross body is the Sudra, laboring in servitude to the subtle body. Once Brahman is reached, one does not allow even the shadow of ignorance to fall upon him. He no longer becomes “polluted” by the illusion of the triad of bodies and considers them as “untouchable” (never to be touched by him again). In light of this interpretation, the Knower of the Self is beyond all the castes, bodies, and divisions, even the designation of being a “Brahmin”.
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In Hindu tradition, it is considered precious to be born a human being. Even as a human being, rare is it to have the opportunity to engage in spiritual practice. Rarer still is it to be in the presence of a Self-Realized Sage. Rarest of all is to be graced with the precious fortune of meeting and becoming initiated by one’s Sadguru. To have a Sadguru is considered fundamental for Self-Realization. In the presence of one’s Sadguru, Knowledge flourishes, sorrow diminishes and joy wells up spontaneously. The Sadguru shows the Truth to the disciple by silence, spiritual instruction, example, & other means.
When the disciple is ripe for initiation (diksha), it may take place in a variety of forms, including being given a mantra that has been empowered by the Sadguru, initiation through touch, through look, or in silence (mauna).
Sri Ramana said, “Mauna diksha is the highest form of initiation and includes the other forms. There must be subject-object relationship established in the other dikshas. Unless these two are there how is the one to look at the other or touch him? Mauna diksha will purify the individual in every way and establish him in the Reality.” He said, “Mauna diksha changes the hearts of all.”
Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj said, “Only those who are lucky enough to receive the blessings of the Guru, who is the Self, can escape from this illusion by right efforts.” “This Liberation is possible only through the teaching of the Sadguru. Therefore, have faith in the Guru and do exactly as told by Him.”
In highest Truth, Sadguru is the nature of the Self and may manifest in any form including that of the formless Self.
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Reincarnation and karma are fundamental beliefs in Hindu tradition. Hindus believe that the personality essence or impure mind enters and exits a multitude of bodies over eons of time until one reaches Enlightenment and rebirth ends. Karma is action, so to live a life filled with right karma or action is what one strives for in each birth so that the next birth will bring one closer to Enlightenment. The karma that one would engage in would be service to the guru, observing religious rites and practices, social service, expressing the true, the good, the beautiful (satyam-sivam-sundaram) with body, speech and mind.
“That atomic ethereal particle that possesses these memories and tendencies is known as the jiva; and it remains there itself, in the space where the dead body is. And they refer to it as 'preta’ (departed soul). That jiva now abandons its ideas and what it had been seeing until then and perceives other things, like one dreaming or day-dreaming. After a momentary lapse of consciousness, the jiva begins to fancy that it sees another body, another world, and another life-span....At that moment, the jiva enters into the body of the male through the food eaten; it is then transferred to the female and delivered into this world, where it undergoes life again in accordance with the fruition of past actions. There is grows and wanes like the moon. Once again, it undergoes senility and death. This goes on again and again until the jiva is enlightened by Self -Knowledge."
“The physical body is only the creation of one's ignorant fancy, not real. There is no difference between the body and the ignorance. To think they are two--this indeed is samsara (repetitive history)."
In Advaita Vedanta, personality is understood to be composed of tendencies of the impure mind (jiva) manifesting in misidentification with the body. The tendencies are born from the desires and fears of the jiva (embodied individual).
“Birth which arises from wish (desire) is not more real than the wish, like waves in a mirage. Just as the world and its creation are mere appearances, a moment and an epoch are also imaginary, not real. There is no essential difference between the experiences of this world and those of another; all this being the thought-forms in the infinite consciousness. They are like two waves in the same ocean.”
Carnate, of the flesh, can be only for the individual. To be embodied is bondage. In practice, the disciple examines the tendencies of the mind that bring about the belief of being an embodied individual, eliminates them through self-examination, and permanently abides in his true nature--Brahman. During practice, including worship, study of the sruti and smrti, prayer and meditation, the disciple may experience doubt (the impure mind) regarding his nature, which is the rebirth of the impure mind forming the personality or jiva. The death of that impure mind brings about the experience of one’s true nature. The birth, death, rebirth and re-death of the impure mind may occur moment by moment, hour by hour, life-time by life-time, or eons by eons until the final turning within of the pure mind, in which complete and final destruction of the notion of birth, death, rebirth, karma, time, embodiment, and individuality occur, and Brahman alone remains.
“Jiva is like unto just a little agitation on the surface of the ocean of Brahman; or just a little movement of the flame of a candle in a windless room."
“Nothing has ever been created anywhere at any time and nothing comes to an end either. The absolute Brahman is all, the supreme Peace, unborn, pure Consciousness and permanent."
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Among the different schools of thought contained within Hinduism, there are said to be 330,000,000 deities or Gods, each representing different aspects or principles of God (Ishwara), while simultaneously representing God himself. Various forms of God known as murtis are used for worship and devotion among the different sects, and each sect has its chosen murtis for that purpose.
Among the various schools of thought, some may view God as monotheistic, the singular, supreme source of all manifestation. Others may view God as polytheistic, multiple Gods contained within a multiplicity of forces. Still others may view God as both monotheistic and polytheistic, believing that God is singular but manifests in a multiplicity of ways. Any of these approaches could apply, whether one is a dualist or a nondualist. An example of the belief of both monotheism and polytheism would be to view Lord Shiva as the singular, Supreme God depicted in numerous Gods or deities, such as Daksinamurti, Nataraja, Ardhanarisvara, or others, and, then, contained within each of these Gods, a multiplicity of aspects or principles of God, each aspect or principle being of the nature of God.
In Hinduism, any or all of these views may be embraced by the devotee, once again displaying the immensity of the woven tapestry of Hinduism as an ever-expanding sphere of experience of God within the infinite Consciousness, which is Brahman.
In Advaita Vedanta, the use of murtis would be polymorphic symbolism of God that is transcendent of both unity and duality, one and many. In ultimate truth, the devotee, the devotion, and that to which one is devoted are all only God, and God alone exists formlessly.
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Hindu temples known by present-day researchers date back as far as 3300-1200 BC, however, there may have been earlier temples whose material existence is no longer present. Certainly, the temples are an ancient tradition within Hinduism.
In Hinduism, temples vary greatly in their architecture, appearance, rituals, traditions and customs according to the presiding deities or Gods of each individual temple. Traditional temple architecture is complex and by no means randomly designed. Many temples simultaneously mirror the outer cosmos—all manifestation, the inner cosmos—the mind space, and the Absolute, which transcends both. In other words, temple significance is no small thing as it represents the entire gamut of the cosmos and human experience pointing the way to Knowledge of the Supreme, which in Advaita Vedanta is understood to be Self-Knowledge. One could say that the Siva temple is born out of the mind of Siva, leaving a map, as it were, to oneself—Siva. Regardless of the school of thought or the deities or Gods each person worships, common among all practicing Hindus is the belief that visiting the temple plays a primary role in one’s spiritual practice. Depending on the approach of the spiritual seeker, it is a place of worship, prayer, and meditation. It is a place where one seeks solitude, solace, worldly and spiritual boons, blessings, and Self-Knowledge.
A temple may be perceived as the embodiment of the Divine. So, when one enters the temple, he or she leaves the dust of the mundane world behind (symbolized by removal of the shoes) and enters the abode of the Absolute, or the Absolute itself, where one meditates upon the Absolute and thus becomes the Absolute. So, in a Siva temple, the highest view would be that Siva abides within Himself.
Our temple, the SAT Temple, which is the “Temple of Being,” is a Ramana-Siva temple, the presiding Gods being Sadguru Ramana and Lord Siva, which are viewed as One. Though it is non-traditional in its architectural form, the essence of its method of worship is the ancient, primordial, original Supreme Knowledge with the forms of worship consisting of spiritual instruction, meditation, recitation, puja, and such.
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Sri Ramana Maharshi said,
“Karpura aarti is symbolic of the burning away of the mind by the light of illumination, vibhuti (sacred ashes) is Siva (Absolute Being), and kunkuma (vermilion powder) is Sakti (Consciousness). Vibhuti is of two kinds: Para vibhuti and apara vibhuit. The sacred ashes are of the latter class. The para is what remains over after all the dross has been burnt away by the Fire of Realization. It is Absolute Being.”
~Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, #89
Bhagavan Ramana tells us that vibhuti is Siva. Thus, his entire body is besmeared with vibhuti. Siva devotees generally apply vibhuti in three lines upon the forehead. In Advaita Vedanta, the three lines represent the burning up of the triads such as: knower, knowing, and known; experiencer, experience, and that which is experienced; the three bodies or forms of experience consisting of the gross (the world), the subtle (the mind) and the causal (reflected light of Consciousness); the three gunas consisting of satva (a mind inclined toward light or that which is spiritual), rajas (an agitated mind, a mind that has not been brought under control through spiritual practice), and tamas (a mind covered in inertia, indolence, dullness, darkness); the three cities destroyed by Siva known as waking, dreaming and deep sleep; misidentification with the body, the mind, and the ego. He further tells us that kunkuma is Sakti — Consciousness. It represents the Power of the Self — Knowledge — the real nature of which is Consciousness.
Therefore, Advaita Vedantins who worship Siva will adorn their foreheads with vibhuti and kunkuma, thus being “adorned” with Being-Consciousness.
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Puja is a fundamental form of worship in Hinduism, and it varies widely from region to region and for different sects. Pujas are performed daily in Hindu temples and in Hindu homes. Pujas are performed in reverence to God, signified by the lingam or other deity according to the sect. Pujas are also performed on a variety of special occasions or included during ceremonies, which are considered “rites” or “passageways” to important events in life such as at weddings, sacred thread initiations, etc. Pujas are performed by a pujari. A pujari is a surname which means priest. Pujas are performed by offering many different items to the chosen deity. Items vary from 5 to 64.
Here, at SAT, during puja, we worship Siva, the Sivalingam being the form worshipped. Because our orientation is that of Self-Knowledge, we offer some of those items representative of such.
So, as each item is lovingly offered to the Sivalingam, absorption in deep meditation ensues, the mind rids itself of delusions and one attains the great Bliss of Liberation, which is Siva.
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Prasadam means Grace, bright clarity, sacrament, or, it can also refer to something that has been blessed, like food or sacred ash, etc. Here at SAT, prasadam is often used when referring to food that has been prepared by Bhagavan's devotees for Bhagavan's devotees. It is food that has been prepared from bright clarity, with love and care, to express the deep love and care devotees have for Sri Ramana and His devotees. From this vantage point, the food becomes sacrament, and it is by God's Grace that we are able to partake of it. When the food is served in our Temple, it is naturally blessed by Bhagavan, Siva and the Gods as we are surrounded by them as we consume their blessings in the form of food. When we receive such prasadam, Sri Bhagavan's Grace and blessings are palpable, and the prasadam becomes more than mere sustenance for the body.
Prasadam, therefore, is brought forth by God, served by God, blessed by God, and consumed by God. In essence, we ourselves are swallowed up and become food for God.
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