Random Musings- Part 49: On Ganesha Purana & Bhakti Yoga

In the very beginning of Krida-Khanda of Ganesha Purana, the sages say:

“For as long as this Purana is recited, our desire to hear it increases and the entire world becomes free from the ocean of transmigration”.

While at a first glance, it appears as mere eulogy of the said Purana. There is a deep philosophy embedded in this. The key phrases here are “desire to hear increases” and that one will become “free from Samsara”. The recitation and hearing of this Purana constitutes what is called as “Kirtana” and “Sravana” in Bhakti Yoga.

In Bhagavata Purana, nine forms of Bhakti are mentioned:
Shravanam – Hearing the names and glories of the Lord
Keertanam – Chanting His glories
Smaranam – Remembering the Lord
Paada sevanam – Serving the Lord’s feet
Archanam – Worshiping the Lord
Vandanam – Offering obeisance unto the Lord
Daasyam – Serving the Lord as His servant
Sakhyam – Developing friendship with the Lord
Atma Nivedanam – Total surrender of oneself to the Lord

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Photo Credit: Google Search


The Ganesha Purana is actually referring to this Shravanam, when it says that hearing this Purana, one’s desire to hear more increases. The phrase “desire to hear more increases” refers to the maturing of Bhakti, with the mind becoming one-pointedly focussed towards Ganesha in order to enjoy the glory and Rasa of Bhakti. In Bhagavad-Bhakti-Rasayana, Madhusudhana Saraswati classifies all these nine forms of Bhakti as Sadhana bhakti or the means through which one attains true Bhakti or the Bhakti which is goal. He says that Sravana etc. which are called Bhagavad Dharma lead to sprouting of love for the deity, which inturn leads to increase of prema. The phrase “desire to hear (the glory of Ganesha) increases” refers to this stage of the “increase of prema”. This stage constitutes the 7th stage of Bhakti Yoga in the scheme given by Madhusudhana Saraswati, while Shravana etc. forms 4th stage. The 7th stage gives rise to manifestation of divine in the form it is worshipped, in this case, Ganapati, which will untimately results in complete union with the divinity, which is Moksha (this constitutes 11th and final stage of Bhakti).

In other words, the sages are eulogizing the said Purana as a perfect tool for Bhakti Yoga, which leads one to Moksha. They are also making a reference to Rasopasana, which is an aspect of Bhakti-yoga by the reference to “desire to hear being increasing”. Today, Rasopasana is mostly associated with Krishna-Radha. But, I believe it is equally possible with all deities. One of the purpose or Prayojana of genre of Puranas is to facilitate Bhakti Yoga and this is being stated at the veery beginning of the Krida-Khanda of Ganesha Purana as well.

-Nithin Sridhar

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Random Musings- Part 48: Does Non-Perception make Ishwara Non-existent?

Anupalabdhi or non-perception is one of the valid means of knowledge accepted in Advaita Vedanta and Bhatta Mimamsa. According to these schools, the non-perception of an object at a place can be used to perceive its non-existence there. Example. If a chair is not perceived in a room, then we can safely conclude that the chair is not present in a room.

What is interesting is that the validity of non-perception as a valid means for understanding non-existence of an object is subject to certain conditions. The most important of them being: It cannot be applied to all objects and all contexts. It is valid and can be applied only to those objects and in those circumstances, in which such an object could otherwise have been perceived had it been present. That is, the absence of a chair in a room can be perceived from non-perception of a chair owing to the fact that if the chair were to be present, it would have led to its perception. In other words, this means of knowledge (pramana) is not valid and not applicable to objects like atoms, prana, kundalini, or to realms like svarga or to Ishwara.

A very common meme touted touted these days by the atheists and agnostics, is to provide proof or show Ishwara to them. What they are actually saying is since Ishwara or any deity cannot be perceived by our sense organs, they do not exist. They are in effect taking refuge in Pratyaksha pramana to refute existence of Ishwara. This argument is then portrayed as a “rationalitic” and logical, compared to theists who are considered superstitious!

But, the very basis of this argument is irrational. As the discussion in the beginning of the post shows, non-perception can imply non-existence only in cases where the objects can normally be perceived while present. But, this does not apply to the case of Ishwara who is by definition the cause, sustainer and destroyer of the universe and hence, is beyond the grasp of the senses. The Shastras repeatedly describe Ishwara as beyond the reach of the senses. Therefore, any argument which uses this Pramana of Anupalabdhi to prove non-existence of Ishwara is an irrational argument and must be rejected.

Having said this, it is of-course possible for the Yogis and Bhaktas to perceive Ishwara and the deities in the Hrdayas and it is also possible for Ishwara to manifest in meditation or as Avataras in the human form or inhibit as Shakti in the Murtis in a temple. Or for the mind to meditate on the form of deity embedded in dhyana mantras. But, except for the case of Avataras, in no other case is Ishwara visible to the naked eyes as a objective reality to everyone, so to speak.

In any case, the point is, non-perception of Ishwara to sense organs cannot be a rational basis for arguing for the non-existence of Ishwara.

-Nithin Sridhar

Random Musings- Part 47: Understanding ‘Brahmo Satyam Jagat Mityam’ from Bhakti perspective

Brahma satyam jagan-mithyä jivo brahmaiva näparah” is the clarion call of Vedanta, declares Sri Adi Shankaracharya Bhagavadpada in a half verse attributed to him.

Since, I have been studying Bhakti Yoga from an Advaitic perspective since last few weeks, I was reflecting on this half verse and it strikes me that the verse holds more to it than what is apparent.

Madhusudhana Saraswati in his Bhagavad Bhakti Rasayana gives 11-stages of Bhakti based on Bhagavata Purana. The sixth stage in the list is named “Svaroopadhigati” or understanding one’s nature. He describes the stage in devotion when the devotee realizes the true meaning of “Tvam” pada (of Tat Tvam Asi) that he is the atma different from body-mind complex. In other words, the devotee understands that the Jagat or world, including the body-mind complex which exists in the world as unreal, while Ishwara alone is the reality and thus, focusing all his attention and devotion on this Ishwara. This understanding of the true nature of reality is captured by Sri Shankaracharya in the phrase “Brahma satyam jagan mithyam“- Brahman alone is real and Jagat is unreal. In Madhusudhana Saraswati’s scheme of spiritual progress mentioned in Gudartha Dipika, this stage marks the culmination of Karma Yoga and the beginning of mature Bhakti Yoga which is of the nature of meditation and devotion on Ishwara accompanied by an enquiry into “Tat” pada of the Mahavakya Tat Tvam Asi.

Thus, “brahmo satyam jagat mithyam” of Sri Shankaracharya marks the end of Karma Yoga and corresponds to stage six of Bhakti yoga in the scheme enunciated by Madhusudhana Saraswati.

Similarly, the last portion of the half verse i.e. “jivo brahmaiva naparaha” that Jiva and Brahman are not distinct, the first hand realization (Aparoksha Jnana) of Brahma-Atma aikyam corresponds to the eleventh and the final stage of Bhakti named “Prema-Parakashte“. Madhusudhana describes this stage as the giving up of one’s body i.e. complete union with Ishwara. In otherwords, it refers to Sayujya- the final merging of the devotee with the deity owing to the rise of Brahma-Atma aikyam-Jnana preceded by complete surrendering (Atma-Nivedanam) and extreme unbearable pangs of suffering due to separation (parama-viraha-bhakti).

Thus, “jivo brahmaiva naparaha“, which marks the end of Jnana Yoga, also marks”Prema-Parakashte“- the culmination of Bhakti Yoga.

-Nithin Sridhar

Random Musings- Part 46: Importance of Tradition

Nithin Sridhar

Dharma by its very definition means that which upholds. Since, people who are to be upholded are diverse in nature and have different temperaments, there is diversity in the Dharma applicable to each of them. Thus, diversity is at the very heart of Dharma.

Taking this diversity into account, our Rishis and Acharyas had given several frameworks and models to understand life and align our activities towards it.

One such framework is Yuga framework, which gives us our position in cosmos. It is not just about numbers or time, it is an anchor which tells us the condition of mankind and the world as a whole. It gives us a bird’s eye view of the state of things, a kind of SWOT analysis.

Another frame work is Chaturvarga Purusharthas. This framework of 4-fold goals is to align our life, our actions and our future towards permanent happiness at all levels. To uphold truly means to take an individual from the position of sorrow and limitation to a position of bliss and limitlessness. Purusharthas act as the northern star in aligning our life to what truly matters by not losing of the vision.

Yet another framework is Varna-Ashrama. This is a reference to position of an individual in his long journey towards Moksha and the immediate actions and duties, performing which he would align himself and travel towards Purusharthas. Varna is a reference to the duties with respect to Svabhava and Ashrama the stage in life. No two person has same temperaments, same inner callings, or same competencies. Varna-Ashrama framework is to assist each individual to understand their inner calling and purpose of immidiate life performing which will result in self-actualiation and fulfillment i.e. Upholding of life.

It is on the foundation of frameworks like these various traditions, sampradayas, kulas and paramparas, and Darshanas have been built. While some become aligned to a particular parampara due to family affiliation, some others seek out their life calling and become loosely or strongly aligned to a parampara, and yet others try to create their own niche by drawing what is suitable from different paramparas. There may be some others who will feel at home in different paramparas. In all the four cases, a person connects to and takes these paramparas as an anchor. A Sampradaya or a Parampara is a received tradition of knowledge and it is this knowledge which is tapped into by all of us.

The important point to note is, since diversity is at the root of Dharma, Samparadayas and traditions which has Dharma as its foundation has huge diversity as well. We have Vaidika vs. Tantrika traditions, within Vaidika we have Shrautu vs. Smartha, within Tantrika we have hundreds of Kulas, then, we have Darshanas, we have Pauranika vs Vaidika traditions, a very complicated set of different traditions, some completely different from each other,while many overlapping with each other.

The point to note is, the diversity of tradition implies that what holds good in a Sampradaya may not hold good in another. This does not necessarily mean they are contradictory or that one is Dhamic and other is not. Of course, each tradition will claim a superior space for itself and if it does not who will it hold shraddha for its practitioners? But this is not a statement of falsehood either, for a practitioner competant for a particular path, that path is indeed superior to all others and hence, such statements are not out of place. One example for these differences are: While menstruation is considered Ashaucha is mainstream traditions and Dharmashastric society, certain tantrika practices consider menstruation as Shaucha. They are not contradictory, but complementary. Within the context of that ritual, menstruation indeed becomes Shaucha and outside of the ritual it remain Ashaucha. Another example is, Sandhya Upasana. While Vaidika Sandhya is only for Dwijas, the Tantrika Sandhyas is for all Varnas. This is not an example of Tantras rejected Varna-ashrama. This is simply a newer tradition, newer way of worship designed by our RIshis for which all Varnas are competant. The Tantrika Sandhya does not reform, contradict or negate Vaidika Sandhya in any way. It only imparts the same benefit but using a different ritual format.

It is for this reason, it is very important to preserver and pass on tradition into future generation. The best way to preserve is to practice it (Sadachara) and to practice it one needs to indulge in Svadhyaya (study of it) and to even do that one must have Shraddha or conviction in received knowledge. Thus, Shraddha is at the very root of Hindu life and it is this root which is being attacked by Colonial forces, post colonial breaking India forces.

The English education system which has imported modernity in entirety has managed to influence very young minds to perceive tradition as falsehood and superstition while modern science is portrayed as only valid truth. This dismantling of Shraddha at the very childhood stage, before Shraddha has even began to take roots, has created an entire generation of deracinated Hindus who are completely alienated from their traditions, their anchors, which they have come to perceive as falsehood, superstition or otherwise simply outdated. The calculated attacks on Sabarimala, Made Snana, etc. is aimed at further alienating masses from their traditions to which they have clinged on to despite modern education.

Unless and until, we address the problem at the source: That is, stop this dismantling of Shraddha among young people, either by working to change the education system or by parents taking initiatives to counteract the effects of the school system. The best way to counteract is not by force or imposition of prohibition against asking questions. But instead parents need to teach and inspire children to develop Shraddha, take up Svadhyaya and practice Sadachara and Sadhana, The best way to do this is to show by example, show by themselves practicing in a knowledgable and inspiring manner. Unless, this is done, Hindus will continue to loose civilization struggle.

Random Musings- Part 45: Tradition vs. Reform

Nithin Sridhar

An unbiased study of Hindu tradition and its leaders will reveal that the way Hindu tradition is continuously evolving all the while keeping its core intact is very different from how we understand reform today.

Our current definition of reform includes: 1. Recognition of a particular practice as superstitious, regressive, or at least outdated. 2. To rectify this, one will have to give up this tradition or practice and embrace values which are in sync with modernity. There are serious issues with this approach.

1. It posits modernity as liberating ideal and received knowledge in the form of tradition as regressive.
2. It posits modern scientific narrative imported from the West as truth and traditionally received knowledge as superstition and falsehood.
3. Therefore, only way forward according to this view is to dismantle and discard existing traditions and embrace modernity, be it in the name of equality, feminism, or any other name tags.

In short, the present discourse on reform aims to delegitimatize Hindu practices and dismantle Hinduism.

It is with a view to achieve these goals that a large number of academicians and activists also use the discourse of reform to analyze Hindu history and our past leaders.

Take Basavanna or Ramanujacharya as example, or examples from history about a temple priest carrying an Alwar on his shoulders to sanctum sanctorum of the temple. These actions and events are interpreted using the discourse of reforms in order to delegitimate traditional practices, knowledge and beliefs. Unfortunately many on the so called-RW or Hindutva side are also great advocates of this discourse.

Is there an alternate way of understanding these events? Yes. We can understand them on their own ways. The story of Alwar from what I can to know is all about the Bhakti and the zenith of Bhakti reached by that Alwar, a stage wherein all rules and regulations of Varna-ashrama ceases to apply. Alwar had attained the stage of atyashrami so to speak and the priest insulting him was a great Adharma and hence the prayashchitta. It was not some so called anti-caste reform project as is being projected today.

Most projected reforms today in the name of anti-caste is a narrative built to demonize varna-ashrama Dharma. But an examination of these events in unbiased way will show that they were not part of any reforms project. Similarly, Ramanuja giving mantra initiation or Basavanna giving Shaiva initiation can be understood as a spontaneous movement that arose from within Hinduism to contextualize the teachings of Dharma to the times.

The actions of these Acharyas are not projects of reform, they were simply creation of new institutions and traditions catering to changing needs. There was no dismantling of existing systems, no abusing of existing practices.

Random Musings- Part 44: On Shraddha

Nithin Sridhar

While reflecting on my wife, Pratyasha Nithin‘s story, “विश्वास की एक बूँद” I realized that “Shraddha” is the very core of Sanatana Dharma.

For some time now, I have realized that Shraddha, Svadhyaya & Sadhana (which includes Achara or Svadharma/Karma Anushtana) are the three legs of the tripod of Hinduism. But, among the three, in many a sense Shraddha is the most important in the sense that it is Shraddha,which impels a person to undertake Svadhyaya and Sadhana. It is no surprise then, our tradition draws a clear distinction between Astika & Nastika.

Astika is one who has Shraddha, who believes in the validity of Vedas as a Pramana (valid means for knowledge) to know about both the duties in this world and the path to liberation from this world. An Astika is one, who owing to this Shraddha undertakes deeper study of Shastras and self-introspection using yukti (logic) and practices the Svadharma or duties that are applicable to him or her to attain overall well being.

Shraddha therefore forms the key to whole lifestyle envisioned by Hinduism. Without Shraddha, there is no performance of Dharma and no attainment of Preyas & Shreyas (material & spiritual wellbeing).

In the simplest language Shraddha is “trust”. Just like in the transactional issues, we routinely place trust in our friends & family, Shraddha is the trust placed in Guru & Shastra in the issues related to Dharma & Moksha. When it matures with the help of Svadhyaya, Yukti & Sadhana, it gains strength and transforms into “Conviction”. Finally, when one attains sufficient purification of mind owing to Sadhana, this conviction transforms into “actualization” or “direct realization”. Thus, Shraddha, which begins as trust, grows into conviction and finally matures into direct actualization.

The most crucial of the three stages of Shraddha is obviously the first, to develop “trust”, for it provides the entry into the life of an Astika, entry into the long journey towards realization. In the story, the protagonist gains this entry through a combination of epiphany experienced in dream and “sat-sanga” in the form of the female character in whom he develops implicit trust, which acts as “Apta Vakya”. And this entry provided by Shraddha, helps the protagonist discover his svadharma!

Shraddha is truly the most important leg of the tripod of Sanatana Dharma!

Interested can read the story by Pratyasha here- http://www.pragyata.com/mag/-482

Random Musings- Part 43: Marriage & Agni

The most important part of Vaidika Vivaha: Agni. It is what sets Hindu marriages apart. Agni is Jaataveda, knower of all our actions. He is the presiding deity of all our Sankalpas. Hence, a marriage performed in his presence, oath taken in his presence is many times more binding! He amplifies our Sankalpas our love and commitment! That is why many couple who marry without much dedication and affection or commitment in their hearts and minds, they are only increasing those feelings in front of fire, for Agni amplifies everything! He is the original priest, He is the supreme Brahman itself available for direct perception on physical plane! So, when we take the oath to enter Grihasta, we are not simply making commitment to each other but to the entire cosmos, to supreme Brahman itself.

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