(Transcribed from a lecture delivered at the Old School, Temple,
New Hampshire, 14 September 2002, 6:00 p.m.
This article will soon be published in the first issue of a new
journal of Indian thought and thinking called
Success at ritual is all about alignment. We want first of all to
align ourselves with Ganesha, so that the objects that we are going
to employ in our ritual will cooperate with us, so that our sense
organs will be turned in the direction of the ritual that we are
going to perform, and so that all the disembodied personalities
in the neighborhood will be properly aligned as well. Those that
want to cooperate will cooperate; those that don't want to cooperate
we thus encourage to go elsewhere during this period.
Once you have invoked Ganesha, you continue with your ritual.
Often at the very beginning you will invoke Ganesha in a very
simple way, because you will be reinvoking him frequently during
your process. In this your ritual resembles a concert, as if you
were an Indian musician, and you were elaborating a raga . The
word raga means a mode, a musical mode, a specific order of notes
going up and specific order coming down - but it also means redness,
heat, inflammation and passion. Music's job is to arouse your
emotional energy, and each raga activates emotional energy in a
different way. You elaborate the raga in a particular rhythm,
and wherever you begin your elaboration, your rhythm always has
to come back to sama, to the point where one rhythmic figure ends
and the next begins.
You are doing the same sort of thing with your ritual. You put
your energy out, and then draw it back, and you keep coming back
to Ganesha because you keep starting the process over again. There
are many layers of obstacles along the way to get rid of, and
Ganesha will help you arrive eventually in an area where things
are relatively, temporarily obstacle free. Look at it with the
help of a Sri Yantra. A Sri Yantra is composed of a group of triangles
that intersect one another. At its center is a dot, or bindu, that
represents the dimensionless point that is the ultimate realty of
absolute consciousness, unlimited in any way. People like you and
me worship a Sri Yantra from the outside in; we are on the outside,
in the world of complications, and we are trying to move inside,
toward the calm center. Only one whose awareness is already unlimited,
already at the point of the bindu, can worship a Sri Yantra from the
After you enter into the field of the Sri Yantra you move progressively
further into its interior, until you reach its center. At every doorway
you will want to invoke Ganesha, to eliminate any obstacle that might
lurk behind the door. It's sort of like playing a video game on a
number of different levels. If at each level you were to invoke Ganesha,
you would be able to blast whoever you need to blast more effectively
along the way.
But a Sri Yantra, and the mantra associated with it
(which, depending on your tradition, will probably be the Kadi Vidya
or the Hadi Vidya - or maybe even the Sadi Vidya ) and the ritual
for its worship, are all very complex. Let's begin with something
much simpler - like Om Namah Shivaya, for instance, the so-called
Panchakshari Mantra. You would still want to be nice to Ganesha if
you are reciting Om Namah Shivaya - for one thing, Ganesha is Shiva's
son. Well, technically he is Parvati's son, not Shiva's. Shiva and
Parvati are an unusual couple in that they have two children, but
one was created entirely out of Shiva, and the other was created
entirely out of Parvati; they did cooperate with one another in the
creation of these two sons, but only indirectly. Ganesha is
technically Shiva's son in that Shiva killed him by decapitating
him, then brought him back to life with an elephant's head. Even
if you are planning to worship Lord Shiva, you will want to make
Ganesha happy. Because you know how parents are: if you come to
visit the parent and the first thing you do is give something
to one of the children, the parent automatically feels very
good-better, if he or she is a good parent, than if you gave
something first to the parent. If you bribe the children first,
the parents immediately become more pliable.
So, begin by saluting Ganesha, then perform netrodakasparsana.
Apply water to your eyes; a symbolic washing of your eyes, to make
them see more clearly. In Sanskrit the word darshana means both
"vision" and "philosophy." What you see is thus what you believe,
and what you believe in will determine what you are able to see.
Since you want to be able to see things as clearly as possible,
you wash your eyes symbolically by applying a little water to them.
Then you wash your mouth and tongue, because you want them also
to be symbolically purified, that you may recite clearly and
accurately whatever mantra you want to recite. If it is a generic
mantra, what we call a mula mantra, like Om Namah Shivaya, then a
few mistakes in pronunciation are not so important; but if it is a
Vedic mantra, a small mistake in pronunciation can make then a
giant difference in effect, because the rcas, the Vedic hymns,
were meant to be pronounced very particularly, with specific
intonation, having your prana centered at a certain point in your
body at the time of recitation. It requires a lot of attention to
recite a Vedic mantra properly, so please select a mantra to recite
that is appropriate for you according to your capabilities.
Next you purify your mouth, with acamana, by sipping water three
times out of your hand, and then offering some water to the ground.
Then you request the ground to make the place that you are going
to sit - your asana - be nice and firm. Yes, this is the same word
that is used in yoga - but here asana means the piece of ground
on which you establish yourself. If you work with the Earth Element
to establish a good seat for yourself, then your body will be firm
while you are performing your ritual, and while you are accumulating
energy by reciting your mantra. If you fail to establish a good asana,
then some instability may develop during the ritual, instability
that could interfere with your achieving the goal you have set
yourself to achieve.
So - establishing a good asana is accomplished by worshipping the
Earth Element. It is definitely not a coincidence that Ganesha,
who rules the Earth Element, sits in the body at the Muladhara Chakra,
which happens to be the place in your organism where the Earth Element
is located. If you can make Ganesha happy, he will gladly go down
and talk with Mother Earth on your behalf. You may find it difficult
to make Mother Earth happy on your own, for you are a human, and
humans have done a lot of very naughty things to our world. But
if you bribe Ganesha with a stick of sugar cane, and he goes and
makes the Earth Element happy, then things become immediately easier for you.
In classical India there were four ways of getting things done:
sama, dama, bheda, and danda. Danda means punishment - which is
not a good approach, unless you happen to be extremely powerful.
Bheda means diplomacy, which you can employ if you are really clever;
but in dealings with gods and goddesses, diplomacy does not usually
work very well. Dama means offering, and offerings are a good way to
go. Sama means appeal to reason and rationale, which is also wise.
Working with sama and dama together is usually a good approach for
dealing with beings like Ganesha: give him things that he wants,
explain politely and clearly what you'd like, and there is every
chance that he will cooperate.
Remember that we exist within a web of multiple realities, and
that you are working little by little toward getting all these
different levels of reality to align properly, that you may enter
into a sort of "full-thickness reality." But this will not happen
all at one time, because everything has to be tweaked into alignment.
And so you start off with Ganesha, and then move to your sense organs,
then to the earth; and then you remember Lord Vishnu, because by
remembering Him you purify everything. Then you remember all the
myriads of celestial beings, particularly all of the planets and
the Great Gods and Goddesses, requesting all of them to be benevolently
disposed towards you, to send rays of good energy down upon you,
and to encourage any nasty things to depart.
Then it becomes time to formally express your intention, which you
can do in your own simple language, or by using a Sanskrit formula.
There are formulas for everything in Sanskrit, because in the past
people had lots of time on their hands, and some of them used that
time to generate useful formulas. Should you choose to use the
Sanskrit formula for expressing your intention, you will begin at
the very beginning, by saying "Vishnur, Vishnur, Vishnuh." First
of all: "Lord Vishnu, You are my witness. You are the Preserver.
It is thanks to You that everything is in one piece. O Lord Vishnu,
I request you to be my witness." Next, you mention your time and your
space, which happens to be during the second half of the life of
the Creator. How did they figure this out? I don't know. But
everyone agrees that we are currently living in the second half
of the life of Brahma, the Creator. Everything that is born
eventually dies; Brahma lives for 100 celestial years, and each
celestial year has 360 celestial days and 360 celestial nights,
and each one of those celestial days is called a kalpa. During
a kalpa, things manifest. During the celestial night, everything
dissolves back into the Indeterminate. During the next celestial
day, they manifest again. During the night, they dissolve back.
It's all the dream of the Creator, who lives for hundreds of
trillions of our years, but is mortal, nonetheless.
Our current kalpa is the Sveta Varaha Kalpa, the Kalpa of the
White Boar. During this kalpa Vishnu incarnates as a white boar.
We are in the Vaivasvata Manvantara, the seventh of the
fourteen manvantaras during this kalpa; and we are in the
twenty-eighth of the mahayugas, or yuga cycles, since the
beginning of the Vaivasvata Manvantara. Since there are
seventy-two mahayugas in each manvantara, we are not quite
yet to this manvantara's middle.
We are currently living in Kali Yuga, the twenty-eighth Kali Yuga
of this manvantara, and in the first quarter of this twenty-eighth
Kali Yuga. There is also a sixty-year cycle to consider, and
the lunar year and lunar month, and lunar day - today for example
is the ninth lunar day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month
of Bhadrapada. Then you indicate where all of the planets are,
where the sun is currently, which happens to be Virgo, from the
Indian point of view. The moon is currently in Dhanur Rashi,
the constellation Sagittarius, and in the nakshatra
(lunar constellation) Mula. And where is Jupiter? Jupiter is
currently exalted in Cancer. You mention then where all the
other planets are, and wherever they happen to be you encourage
them all to be nice and quiet, and request them not to interfere
Then you say: I am sitting in this place. If you are in India,
it is Bharatavarsha, Bharata Khanda. Here we are in America, in
New Hampshire. Then you mention the nearest big river - in India
it might be the Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, or some other; here it is
your biggest nearby river. You mention which bank you are seated
on. Rivers are big nadis of the earth, big vessels in which prana
in the form of water moves. All these specifications indicate
where we are on the body of the earth, so that earth and the
celestials and the local deities and everyone else important
will be aware of where we are, and will be able to cooperate
with us, if they so desire.
Once we have identified our time and space, then comes the
statement of intention. You say, "I, personally, am now going
to perform this activity, according to the procedure that is
laid down in the Vedas, the Puranas, the Tantras,
(or whatever other tradition that I might belong to) for the
purpose of kshema, sthairya, aisvarya, arogya, ityadi"
(to promote protection, stability, prosperity, health, and so on)-
"I am going to perform this activity," which you then name: japa,
homa, shraddha, tarpana, bali, or whatever. While you have been
reciting your statement of intention, you have kept some water
in your hand, water that is acting as your elemental witness.
You are asking the Water Element to witness what you are going
to do. Once you complete your statement of intention, you pour
the water onto the ground, sealing your oath. You have now
promised the universe that you will perform the ritual. And as
they say in Hindi: "jo vada kiya ho, nibahna padega"; whatever
promise you make, you are going to have to fulfill it. The
universe expects nothing less of you. It doesn't expect you to
make any promise at all, but should you decide to make a promise,
then it expects you to fulfill it. If you don't, then you should
be aware that the universe could get its nose in a conceptual
sling about your failure; the cosmos could feel unhappy because
you put your intent into doing something and then failed to
proceed. Once you dispatch your intention, the energy behind it
has left you, but has not yet got to where it was supposed to go;
your energy is out in the world wandering around, and could
end up getting tangled up in something that you would not want
it to do. Once you seal your oath, you enter more completely
into your ritual space, where now you can get yet closer to the
Ultimate Reality of unlimited consciousness.
Your further entry into ritual space means that, again, you
will want to return to Ganesha, who is now your dearest friend
since he is going to get rid of yet more of your obstacles. Now
is a good time to invest in Ganesha however much energy and time
seems appropriate at that moment, to make a sincere effort to
encourage Ganesha to be pleased. Once you have pleased Ganesha
to the best of your ability, you turn to Ganesha's mother. It
will now be easier to make Her happy, because the satisfied
Ganesha will go to his mother and say, "What a nice person that
fellow is! He gave me some sugar cane, and some sweets. Why
don't you do something nice for him?" Then Ganesha's mother,
being of an indulgent nature, will indulge Her child, and will
become more agreeable to your plans. Ganesha's mother is Parvati,
the goddess who "comes from the mountain." The chain of mountains
in question here is the chain of vertebrae that form the
spinal column, for Parvati is the energy of the spine, the
so-called Kundalini energy. To whatever extent your own personal
energy of transformation is awakened, you want that energy to be
moving in the direction of whatever it is that you want the
ritual to accomplish.
The Kundalini energy and ahamkara, the energy of your ego, are
the same thing. As long as that energy is invested mainly with
identifying with you as your limited personality, we call it the
ego; as soon as it starts to retract some of its attention from
the limited you, and begins to send its attention elsewhere, then
we call it Kundalini. When Ganesha, at the tip of the spine,
gives the go-ahead, his mother will cooperate to release some of
that energy, which will enable you to move in your chosen
direction, which happens to be in the direction of the Absolute.
With the help of the mother of Ganesha you thus then move in the
direction of Ganesha's father, Lord Shiva, the embodiment of the
Unlimited. Lord Shiva is often represented iconographically as a
large rock, which represents the bindu that's at the center of
all, that Ultimate Reality of limitless consciousness that is a
dimensionless point. And then you will want to remember the
thing that Shiva is fondest of, which is of course Lord Vishnu,
particularly in the form of the Divine Cowherd Krishna, the
Supreme Perfection of Personhood. And whom does Vishnu worship?
Shiva. Vishnu cannot do without Shiva, and Shiva cannot do
without Vishnu; they work together as a team.
At this point the most important beings in the cosmos have now
turned, however slightly, in your direction. If your focus is
extremely powerful, you will be able to draw their attention to
you very quickly; if your focus is fairly minor, then they will
notice out of the corner of one of their many heads that someone
is calling them from way, way far down on the earth, and then
send a tiny fraction of their attention down there to deal with
that call. Everything you have done to this point is basically
the purva karma, the preparatory stuff, preparatory because you
have been purifying and aligning the external and internal worlds.
Once things are well purified and aligned, internally and externally,
and you have the attention of the Great Gods and Goddesses, that
is the time to perform your ritual's pradhana karma, the main thing
that you want to do, whatever it might be.
Let's assume that you are doing a very simple kind of puja-a puja
means a general generic ritual kind of worship. Pujas can be
complicated or simple depending on how many things you want to offer.
The simplest puja is the Panchopachara Puja, the "puja of the five
offerings," those five offerings being a flower, incense, a lamp,
food of some kind, and some sort of fragrant substance, like
sandalwood paste or an essential oil. The flower represents the
Element of Space or Ether. The incense, or rather its smoke,
represents the Element of Air. The lamp represents the Element of Fire.
The food represents the Element of Water, and the liquid or solid
fragrance represents the Element of Earth. By making these five
offerings you are offering the Five Elements that make up your
being as a limited individual, and requesting your ishtha devata,
or personal deity, to purify those elements that are within you,
to transform the elements within you into the purified forms of
the elements in your offerings: to make the space in your body
floral, and delicate like a flower; to make the air in your body
fragrant, moving without obstruction, literally and figuratively;
to make the fire in your body burn cleanly and brightly; to make
the water in your body as nourishing as the food that you offer;
and to make the flesh of your organism as fragrant and cool as
sandalwood paste. If you want to live a long and healthy life,
your flesh must be cool, not hot; being overheated is a good way
to grow old quickly.
Your puja requests whatever it is you are focusing on to transform
your ordinariness into something more refined. Your transformation
will be limited solely by the limits on your ability to self-identify
with whatever it is that you are focusing on, which could be something
with form (like a deity), or it could be the Absolute, the Reality
that has no name or form, no nama or rupa. The Absolute has no
qualities whatsoever; it is attribute-free. If you find it easy
to focus on that ultimate quality-free state, then it will be easy
enough for that Ultimate Reality to provide you what you require.
If on the other hand you find it easier and more agreeable to connect
to something that has form, then there are an unlimited number of
gods, goddesses, trees, rocks and things that have form, like this
very Shiva Linga right over here, on which you can focus your
attention. Once you can establish a healthy connection with one or
more of these things, they will start to lead you actively and
enthusiastically in the direction in which you need to go.
You need the preliminaries to purify your focus so that its
connection with Reality will be strong and secure. In Ayurveda
we talk about pancha karma, purification of the physical organism.
Puja is purification of the spiritual organism. Before you perform
pancha karma, which involves vomiting and purging and enemas and
what have you- things that are not quite so attractive as
sandalwood paste-you must first prepare the body so that it will
purify nicely. You will need to massage it with oil, and make it
sweat gently, until the body becomes very relaxed and loose. Then
that's the point where you must act, to cause it to get rid of
whatever it wants to get rid of. Similarly, the initial portion
of a worship ritual helps you get disconnected from your normal
day-to-day consciousness, so that you may reconnect to a more
divine consciousness. Normal day-to-day consciousness during Kali Yuga
is strongly outward-pointing, making it difficult for you to connect
directly to your unseen aim. Hence the preliminaries, the steps you
take away from your normal everyday consciousness as you move
towards the center of Reality.
An avarana is a sheath or coating. There are Three Avaranas that
prevent Kundalini from directly perceiving the Ultimate Reality:
the Pancha Mahabhutas, the Five Elements that make up our world;
the Three Gunas, the Three Archetypal Qualities that are innate
to all creation; and the Shad Rasas, the Six Tastes. The Five
Elements are the physical obstacles that keep us from aligning
well with the Ultimate, and the Three Gunas are the mental obstacles
that keep us from aligning well with the Ultimate. The Six Tastes
influence both body and mind, because the organism uses the tastes
to transfer knowledge from the body to the mind; mind and body
communicate with taste. We find ourselves attached to mind, body,
and the communication between them because we are stuck in the
Five Elements, the Three Gunas, and the Six Tastes.
Encouraging the Five Elements to cooperate is a good way to get
the body to move properly. Encouraging the Six Tastes to cooperate,
which we can do by eating the right foods, performing the right
actions, and entertaining the right emotions, is a good way to get
body and mind to communicate well. And encouraging the Three
Gunas to cooperate is a good way to get the mind to move properly.
Every food that you eat will cause sattva, rajas or tamas to
increase or decrease. Sattva is the quality of equilibrium: 'sat'
means truth and 'tva' means 'ness,' so sattva means 'trueness,'
or accuracy, which is the state of the mind when it does the job
it's supposed to do. What the mind is supposed to do is to take
information in from the sense organs, align that information, put
it together into a nice comprehensible narrative, and send that
report to the faculty of discernment for action. The mind is very
much like a good personal assistant, whose job it is to get all
the files ready and take them in to the CEO. The CEO will look at
the files and say: "Yes...No... Come... Go... Act... Don't act,"
or whatever. Then the job of the mind is to take those commands
from the CEO and forward them to the sense organs in the precise
order that will accomplish the task that the faculty of discernment
has set it to do.
The mind then attempts to edit, gloss, add to, and subtract from
what the faculty of discernment has determined. It will fail to
give the faculty of discernment all of the information that it
requires, hiding some of it, magnifying certain portions, issuing
small white lies or big black lies, putting out chaff, sending up
balloons-employing, in short, every countermeasure that it can to
make it appear that things are different from the way that they
really are, so that the mind may try to maintain its own influence
and control. All parts of the organism have their own agendas;
the body has its agenda, the mind has its agenda, the faculty of
discernment has its agenda. Even the Ultimate Reality has its own
agenda. At this point in human evolution the mind has been able
to achieve a large part of its agenda, and this success has rendered
the mind over-stimulated, overactive, and overconfident. Today, in
almost everyone, misuse of the mind is the main reason for
pathological disturbances in body or mind. We can best facilitate
clarity of mind by doing things that are appropriate and by eating
things that are appropriate. When you eat something and digest it
well, it will produce metabolites that are agreeable to the brain,
which will encourage the brain to think more clearly.
When instead you eat things that produce undesirable chemicals,
your brain will think less clearly; your blood will be perverted,
your thinking will be perverted, and you yourself may end up being
perverted - which will be a bad thing, because it will produce in
you more rajas and tamas. Rajas and tamas are the two doshas of
the mind, the two things that throw the mind out of whack. Rajas
means activity, and rajas is necessary for change. Tamas means
inertia, and tamas is necessary for stability. Rajas and tamas
turn bad, they become doshas, only when you become attached to
them. A person who is very attached to tamas is someone who will
never agree to change, even when change is essential. Someone who
is attached to rajas is someone who is always changing, never
maintaining attention on one thing long enough to be stable.
Someone who is afflicted by both rajas and tamas will get stuck
in one place, and after being stuck there for a while will lurch
suddenly over to the next place to be stuck in, and will remain
stuck there for a while. Such people will continue staggering from
inappropriate location to inappropriate location, thinking all
the while that they are advancing their cause.
Initially, we need more sattva, and ritual can facilitate this aim,
provided that we can locate enough sattva to inspire us to go
in the right direction to begin with. We can facilitate the
action of sattva by doing yoga, eating properly, getting rid
of the toxins in the system, aligning with the planets, and in
general doing any other thing that promotes equilibrium. We
need to have enough sattva so that, when we get to the point
in our ritual where we have done all of the purva karma, all
the preliminary things, and we are ready to make our main offerings,
the chief interactions that we want to have with the universe at
this particular time, our offerings will be well offered. We can
make this more likely by ensuring that we have got rid of as much
rajas and tamas as possible, that we have minimized the influence
of the Five Elements, and aligned the Six Tastes as best as possible.
The word for taste in Sanskrit, rasa, means taste, but it also
means water, and it also means juice, the sap in trees, blood plasma,
semen, and emotion. This tells us that, while a good way to refine
your tastes is by eating the right food and digesting it properly,
it's even better to have the right emotional attitude to life,
and to everything in life.
Your aim, while you perform all your purva karma, is getting
your mind into the right emotional attitude so that when you
are ready to make your main offering, you make it from a position
of bhakti, or devotion. If you value your life and your happiness,
never make any offering from a position of arrogance: "I am an
expert at this ritual, I am very smart, I can recite everything
properly, I know exactly how to manipulate the universe." There
are no doubt people who do learn how to manipulate the universe,
but if you are only thinking of manipulating the universe, you
will eventually turn into a mighty demon, and God will have to
arrange for your slaughter. This is very inconvenient for God,
and will also be very inconvenient for you, because God could
easily decide to send you into some unpleasant wombs for many
long years until you learn your lesson, and get rid of some of
the swelling of your head. Better than that is to get rid of
the swollen head to begin with, which you can do by bowing down.
Bow down to begin with, bow down first to Ganesha, at the outset.
Get into the habit of bowing down. Start by bowing down to
Ganesha, and you will find that bowing down is not all that
much trouble. In fact, you'll find that it feels pretty darn
good. And then you'll start to thinking, "Maybe I will bow down
to more things." This is good, because whenever your ego has to
humble itself, its prone position puts you into the position of
being able to receive the influence of various celestial beings.
The two basic paths of life development are the Bhakti Marga,
the path of devotion, and the Jnana Marga, the path of knowledge.
In the path of knowledge you identify with Reality, and say
things like, aham brahmasmi ("I am the Ultimate Reality!) or
tat tvam asi, ("Thou art that!"). The path of knowledge is very
good, provided that you can identify wholly with the Ultimate Reality,
and lose your own limited human attachment to your own limited
human personality. If you only identify yourself partially,
though, then you end up a demonic sort of person. Up to that
point of total identification it's much better to be a bhakta,
a devotee, to say "Thy will be done!" instead of "My will be done!"
Whichever path you may follow, you will want the appropriate rasa,
the proper emotional attitude, to flower at the moment that
you are performing your main offering, your pradhana karma.
Ideally during the preliminary processes you have moved in
the direction of this supreme moment, when you will be able
to bring all your energy, your attention, and your bhava,
your emotional being, into the right space for you to make
a fitting gesture, an eloquent expression of your chief desire,
which we hope is to facilitate the development of awareness and
consciousness in all sentient beings everywhere, or something to
that effect. This moment is the highlight of your ritual, the
climax of your interaction with the Absolute, with the reality
of the Real.
And then, having reached for that moment, in that time and space,
as close as you are going to reach to that central bindu, that
central point of points, you will now need to return slowly to
a more conventional state of human awareness - unless of course
you happen to be able to stay in that consciousness indefinitely.
If you can stay there indefinitely, more power to you. We salute
you. In fact, we will come visit you, and ask you to bless us
with some of that energy and awareness for ourselves. So long
as you cannot stay there indefinitely, though, you will need
to make a safe reentry into the "normal" world so that you will
be able to integrate your experience of heightened awareness
with the other varieties of awareness that you use to deal with
the details of day-to-day life: picking the kids up from school,
taking them to soccer practice, paying your bills, buying
artichokes, and so on. As you proceeded inside slowly, so you
will also want to slowly reemerge.
Rightly performed, ritual puja can assist you to align your
day-to-day world with the unseen world. Suppose you perform
a Shodashopachara Puja, in which you offer sixteen items to
the deity, relating to the deity as if he or she was your guest.
Since you may have trouble relating to Ganesha or Parvati or Shiva
directly, you can choose instead to relate to them with the
rituals you have been taught that are appropriate to offer to
honored guest. First you invite the deity to enter your home,
and you wash the deity's feet, which will be dusty after the
long journey to your door. Since celestial energy naturally moves
into the top of the body through the head, and down and out of
the body through the soles of the feet, when you wash the deity's
feet and then drink that water, you are enjoying celestial energy
that has been filtered through Godhead. Very tasty!
Now, the deity is bound to be tired after the long journey from
the celestial regions, so a bit of a rest will be most welcome!
So you make the deity has a comfortable seat to sit on, you
offer various offerings like arghya, and you massage and bathe
the deity. Then it's time for dinner! You feed your guest with
all the tidbits that they most enjoy, you offer after-dinner
savories, and finally you make the main offering of the
Shodashopachara Puja, which is arati, the waving of a lamp in
front of the deity. By doing that you are requesting the Fire Element
that is within you to become enkindled in your awareness, in
your astral body. Ordinarily most of your fire is stuck in your
physical body, where it is busy digesting things and sending
messages here and there and keeping your body in one piece,
and so on. But if you want to make spiritual progress you will
need the fire not to be stuck in your physical body; you will
want instead for it to become rarified, to transformed into a
Waving the arati flame in front of the deity will, to a degree
that will depend on your receptivity at that moment, enkindle
the fire in your astral body, which should make you feel good,
or at least better than before. If you have made your deity
happy, your deity should make you happy; and how can the deity
not be happy, after a nice bath and a nice meal! After arati,
you can offer more things, to make the deity even happier. You
can sing, dance, do pretty much whatever you want so long as you
do it with devotion. Diana Eck writes that Indian worship rituals
are like playing house with God-and, in fact, all over India
you will find many people who actually play house with God. This
is particularly true in the Pushti Sampradaya, a sect that
worships Krishna in a very opulent fashion. They dress him up
with different clothes every day, and keep little croquet mallets
and little chess sets near him for his play. Each season he
is offered seasonal food. Some of them have little silver
electric fans so that Krishna will not be hot during the hot
season, and during the cold season they make him wear a little
cap, and provide him a little brazier of hot coals so that he
will not take a chill.
This sort of worship is all extremely focused on providing
Krishna with the kind of opulence that you would probably also
enjoy in your own life. If when you make your offerings you tell
Krishna, "This is all for you, and it's all up to you, but I
wouldn't mind having some of these things in my own life, but
you can provide for me exactly as you see fit, and I will
accept it," then Krishna may ensure that at least some of that
opulence will come your way. What Krishna says is, "I will
give you exactly what you want. If you really want wealth I
will give you that, but then you can't have me; you can only
have my shakti, my Sri. If you really want me, then you will
have to become miserable, because that's the only way you are
going to remember who I am; otherwise you are just going to
get stuck in the beautiful sumptuousness. I alone am in a position
to enjoy splendor, because I alone can enjoy it while remaining
completely aloof from it. You, being a human being, will not
be able to stay wholly aloof, so it will be better for you if
you possess very little, so that you would have no alternative
but to remember me."
Each of these deities has his or her own style of dealing with
Reality, and each requires to be worshipped according to that
style, with appropriate substances and activities. But whatever
the deity, and whatever the worship, things begin to wind down
after arati. This is a sort of vinyasa, vinyasa in the way that
Krishnamacharya used to talk about. He used to say that all
life is a vinyasa, meaning that you should do whatever it is
you are going to do by beginning slowly, accelerating up to a
climax, then decelerating, ending at a point that should act
as an appropriate starting point for the next thing you are going
Your day should begin with Vinyasa, when you wake up in the morning.
Instead of immediately jumping out of bed, get out of bed slowly
and deliberately, check to see which nostril is working, to make
sure that the appropriate nostril is working for the appropriate
day. There are several systems of nostril activity that you can
follow; one says that on the days ruled by malefic planets (Sunday,
Tuesday, Saturday, ruled by Sun, Mars, and Saturn respectively),
the right nostril should be working first, and on the days ruled
by benefics (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, ruled
respectively by Moon, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus), the left nostril
should be working first. Other systems use the tithis, the days of
the lunar fortnight. You select the system you want to use, then
follow it, and if the wrong nostril is working when you get up,
you can try to change it over to the one that should be working.
In the West we talk about "getting out of bed on the wrong foot"
in the morning; in India, though we do talk about the right and
wrong feet, we pay more attention to the right and wrong nostrils.
Once your nostrils are cooperating you should figure out how
things are digesting in your system, to determine how the vinyasa
of your day is going to proceed. If you ate a pizza at 2:00 a.m.
with three bottles of beer and a big bowl of ice cream, you will
probably not want to go out immediately and do three hours of yoga,
or eat a giant breakfast; instead, you will probably want to allow
some digestion to occur before you move in any direction. You
always want to move in the right direction at the time at the right
speed so that healthy acceleration can occur, in everything that
you do. Think of vigorous exercise: if you are going to go play
racquetball, and you value your legs, you don't immediately jump
on to the court and start bashing away at the ball. No, you do
some warm-up exercises before you jump onto the court, and after
you finish you cool down again before you take your shower and
go on your way. This is your exercise vinyasa.
You should also observe some variety of eating ritual, some
dining vinyasa. You should not just plop down at the table and
promptly stick a big joint of roast beast into your mouth. No,
you should start slowly and accelerate; start off with something
small to awaken the digestive fire, then build the digestive fire
slowly, and then, as the centerpiece of the meal, you have your
flaming filet of yak, Peking style. That is the apex of your dinner,
after which things decelerate. If you are European, you may have
your salad, your cheese and your fruit afterward; if you are
American, you may merely have dessert and cappuccino. Whatever
your menu, it should build up to that main dish, and then reduce again.
In the case of your worship ritual, once you reach the apex,
you realize that you are as aligned with the deities as you
are going to be just then - which makes then a good time for
more bribery, but of lighter things. And once you have offered
everything you can think might be appropriate to offer, then
you begin your apologies - because they are deities, after all;
they are far more perfected than you are, far more refined.
Just in case you made a mistake, offered something improperly,
committed some faux pas, you would like very much to be forgiven.
Here your intention is crucial. If your desired result is simply
that you should be in good shape, everybody else should be should
be in good shape, and the world should be in good shape, then a
mistake or two is less significant.
But if you are trying to create some specific kind of result,
if for instance you are determined to build a giant building on
a certain piece of land, and you are performing a puja to get the
gods and goddesses to help you out with your plan, then you have
to be much more careful. You have to be a lot more specific about
what you do and how you do it, and you have to be a lot more
careful with which mantras and offerings you use and how you use
them, so that you can create that very specific result for yourself.
Of course, we also hope that you have evaluated your own situation,
and that it is clear that constructing a big building is a good
idea for you. We hope that. Because if it is not appropriate for
you to do that, if you are not adhikara for that activity, you
will eventually regret it.
My mentor used to say that only in very specific cases should
you ask for very specific results. Only when it seems to you
that there is absolutely no other alternative, when you can see
what needs to be done but you can't figure out how to do it,
should you bother God with it. Because God is very busy. God has
millions of people pestering him, phoning him up with all sorts
of desires. God's telephone lines are always open, but God's
operators may put you on hold, and there is no guarantee of how
long will be on hold. You should only disturb God when things are
really serious; otherwise, you should do yourself whatever you can
to move things in the right direction, and ask for all to go well.
A good prayer to make is, "Everyone I know should be happy,"
because if everyone you know is happy, then they will all beam
happiness in your direction, and you will have to end up being
happy. It will be very easy for you to be happy if everyone is
happy around you.
If you are satisfied with saying, "I would like for everyone to
be happy, healthy, and holy, and for everything to move in the
right direction," then you need not worry much about how
perfectly you have performed your worship. The Great Goddess
Herself has promised us in the Durga Sapta Shati, the 700 verses
in praise of the goddess Durga, that whether you are aware or
unaware of how to perform your ritual, so long as you perform
that ritual with devotion to Her, She will see that it gets
properly completed. So, just in case you have screwed it up a
bit, you will want to say to your deity, at the very end, with
complete sincerity: "O Lord, O Lady, please, I have done what I
could, but I know I am a human, and that humans make mistakes.
Please complete my ritual for me, and compensate for all its
insufficiencies." And then you should also pray, "O Lord, O Lady,
I am now about to move back into the consciousness of the ordinary
universe. Please watch over me while I am there, and bring me
safely back to you very soon!" And then you thank the deity for
bringing you near to the center of the universal reality, and
you recite yet more mantras, a veritable garland of mantras,
and your consciousness will gradually reconnect with the outside
world. When the right moment arises to end the festivities, then
define your end point carefully, and close. You began with a
definite starting point, and you don't just let things peter out;
you want a definite end point so that you can close off that
sacred space, you can exit from it, and you can maintain it in a
sacred, pure state. Once you shut the space down, once you have
minimized that space and shut down the program, then you can
proceed to do whatever it is you deem ought next to be done.
If your vinyasa has been good, your process ought to land you
at just that point where you need to be in order to do the thing
that you next need to do in the course of your human existence.
Which is the point we have reached now, in the course of this
lecture. We will punctuate the end of this lecture process with
the sacred mantra Om Nama Shivaya, and that brings things to a close.
QUESTION: Can you tell us just a little bit about how you came to be here now?
DR. SVOBODA: I drove from Brattleboro! Well, my mentor always used to say:
the hardest thing to do in the world is to bide your time. So suppose you
know that something is developing. Suppose you have planted a -- what
kind of nuts grow here? Hazelnuts?
S: How long does it take a chestnut tree to bear? Five years, ten years?
Let's say ten years. So let's just say that you take a chestnut and you
sprout it and you put it in a pot and it becomes a seedling. Then from
a seedling it becomes a tree-ling, and then you put it into the ground,
and you take care of it carefully- you prevent marauding animals from
marauding it- every day you go out and you talk to it and you offer it
some water, some plant food, and you speak to it nicely. And it grows.
Slowly. Every day it's growing slowly. After ten years, you will get
some chestnuts, God willing. But for the nine years, eleven months,
and twenty-nine days before then, you are investing a lot of energy
into it, and your attention may waver occasionally. You may forget the
ultimate purpose of your doing that. You may occasionally decide that
you would like to do something else.
So I was, in my opinion, very fortunate to have escaped from medicine
in the U.S. I was admitted into medical school back in 1972, but I
never actually started, because after that I went traveling in Africa,
joined a tribe over there, went over to Nepal, attended a Kala Chakra
initiation that the Dalai Lama was conducting in 1974, and then
decided to hang on over there. So I learned some very interesting
things about medicine, about astrology, about ritual, and things like
that. And I sincerely think about these things as living things. I
think of medicine as a living being- a goddess who is a natural part
of the universe and whose job is to create health. And I believe
that that natural energy of the universe can be incarnated on earth
at any time, at any place, and that any good physician, no matter who
he or she is or what method or what technique or what system he or
she follows, is acting as a vehicle for that natural native celestial
universal energy of healing. And that's the only way healing ever
happens. Not because of being very clever, but because of allowing
that energy to act through you. If you are doing astrology, then you
allow the energy of the light of the planets to act through you, to
illuminate in someone's life an area that needs to be illuminated.
You can certainly go through your entire life without ever needing
to study, practice, or be practiced upon, in medicine or astrology.
On the other hand, sometimes your karmas may be such that you may
paint yourself into a corner and not be able to figure out a way to
get out on your own. So I think that there is something to be said
for maintaining the traditions that have been passed down for many,
many, thousands of years.
To me, it's as if the Ultimate Reality has decided that She would like
to take a trip. She packs up her steamer trunk, books passage on the
astral equivalent of the Queen Elizabeth II, and visits Europe and
Australia and North America, and other places, to find out whether
the ground in these places will be sufficiently fertile to host
some sprouts of her traditions, to encourage them to develop and
grow. So, appreciating the many things that these traditions have
done for me, I am attempting in my own little way to do what I
can from my perspective, to encourage those sprouts to grow: to
spread seeds here and there, water them occasionally, and encourage
other people to continue watering them. To encourage people who
have those sprouts in their gardens to take proper care of them,
to find the right conditions in which they can best grow.
QUESTION: I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about personal
ritual, because what you talked a lot about tonight were traditions
that have been brought down for centuries. But if you are in a
situation where you don't have the traditions around you what can
you do? I planted a garden here in New Hampshire with all of the
veggies in that I wanted to grow, and my cauliflower is dead, the
broccoli is dead-but the basil was like five feet.
S: And how did the basil taste?
Q: The basil was great.
S: So now you know that not everything transplants well. We see this
everywhere. In the continental United States there is-so far as I
know-but one Pipal tree, or Bodhi tree, and it is on Martha's Vineyard,
brought there by a sea captain. It was apparently planted in a large
bucket, and grew on his ship for a number of years until it was strong
enough to come ashore and get planted in the ground. One individual
of that species has made it here, and that individual has thus far
On the other hand, look at the potato. The potato has gone everywhere.
All peoples on all continents rely on potatoes. Potatoes, tomatoes,
tobacco, may have all originated in the Western Hemisphere, but they
all have become pervasive. Clearly, some species that travel well, and
some species don't. Which do which? That depends. Some things adapt to
any situation. In the case of the potato, the reason that it adapts so
well is possibly that it developed in the high desert of Peru, at
10,000 feet or so, where it rains maybe one inch a year. So the
poor thing had to be able to extract everything that it possibly
could from its environment, whenever the opportunity arose. Put
such a hardy tuber it in a more convenient place, and it will flourish.
Broccoli and cauliflower, though, are more delicate vegetables.
They begin life as the humble cabbage, and then were trained into
Similarly, when it comes to ritual and the like, some things will
have difficulty traveling, and others will travel well. With regard
to the Hindu deities, Lord Shiva has, for example, become very popular.
Of course He is a simple kind of guy: a large rock. Most people
can relate to a rock in some way. Lord Narasimha, on the other hand,
has not become quite so popular. A man-lion-half lion and half
man-disemboweling a demon, wearing his entrails as a necklace: it's
hard for many people to relate to that easily.
But this need not disturb you. If you want to develop a personal ritual,
you should keep it simple. Think of only two things to begin with: what
is your purpose, your intention; and whom is your intention pointed
towards? What conception of the Ultimate Reality have you taken to
your heart, as being closest to your own personal being, and what are
you trying to do with your ritual? Your ritual can be as simple as
lighting a stick of incense and saying, "God is great! Allahu akbar!"
If you really, sincerely feel that sentiment, then you will eventually
achieve what you want to achieve.
You can make your ritual complicated or simple, whichever is
appropriate for you; your worship is, after all your time for
becoming intimate with Reality. How you want to be intimate with
Reality is up to you; there is no set rule for it. There is only the
necessity for doing so, the craving to unite with the Ultimate, that
each of us feels. This is a craving that must be satisfied; you should
figure out how to best satisfy it, in the context of your own life,
and then proceed toward satisfaction.
Copyright © 2003
Robert Edwin Svoboda