be a light unto yourself

veda vyasa

It is the credibility of the gurus and the saints that makes an anti social element to don the garb of a guru or a saint so as to carry on criminal activities. Remember, even Ravana came in the garb of saint to abduct Sita?

Fortunately though, the kingdom of Ayodhya did not have the treta yuga version of deshi journalists and imported intellectuals who would condemn Ravana, Vishwamitra and Vashistha to the same categroy of godmen and frauds.

When Buddha was dying, Ananda – one of His foremost disciples – started crying and said, “What will I do now? You are leaving and I have not yet become enlightened.”

Buddha said, “Don’t cry, because I cannot make you enlightened — only you can do that miracle to yourself. “Be a light unto yourself — APPO DEEPO BHAVA.”

This has been misinterpreted by many to mean that a person does not require any guide or guru on the spiritual path. But Buddha said this to a disciple who had already evolved to a certain stage in the spiritual path. If He had meant that there was no need for a guide or guru in the spiritual path he would not have taken any disciple at all in the first place and the moment any body came for advice He would have turned them away saying, “APPO DEEPO BHAVA.”

A prominent person of India said in a recent interview, “…… Unfortunately today, with all the bogus spiritual gurus around, people are being misled. My advice is to look within. Meditate. You are your own best guru.”

For this eminent person, presence of some bogus gurus becomes reason enough not to seek a genuine guru. Applying same logic, will he not make any friend because a few friends turn out to be unfaithful? Will he not go to a doctor because a few doctors are engaged in fraudulent practices?

There  are lakhs of gurus and saints in India belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jaina and other dharmic traditions.  A few of them have been tainted with immoral and illegal activities. Even some of them had been falsely implicated as happened in he case of the Kanchi Seer.  Unfortunately, our media only highlights those cases where a criminal used the garb of a saint to cheat. While the saints who are genuinely engaged in pursuit of knowledge and other philanthropic activities do not find even a two line or two second mention in our sensation and TRP driven media.

Moreover,  why should the word guru be used in the spiritual context only? The ancient Indian seers divided knowledge into two broad categories: apara vidya and para vidya i.e knowledge of this world and knowledge of the beyond or,  worldly knowledge and spiritual knowledge. So, there are gurus for the worldly knowledge and there are gurus for the spiritual knowledge. While Vyasha, Vashishta and Vishwamitra are spiritual gurus, Dronacharya and Kripacharya are gurus in the art of warfare.

Of course such eminent persons and their ilk do not use the word guru. They may use words like ‘Godmen’ in a derogatory context to demean all Hindu spiritual leaders and figures and dare not say anything about the wrong doings of the religious leaders of Islam and Christianity.

There is reason to suspect the bonafide ‘humanist’ and broad mindedness of such intellectuals when they make a selective attack on the ancient Indian tradition of transfer of knowledge down generations in the Guru-Shishya parampara.

Recently a close aid of the Pope has been accused of serious sexual crimes. A Muslim religious teacher has been found to be raping girls as young as five.  There are black sheep among the religious leaders in every religion. But when it comes to targeting religious and spiritual leaders our media and a section of our elite society target only Hindu spiritual leaders.

It is not surprising that such intellectuals of dubious distinction and mala- fide intentions continue with their vicious agenda to malign Indian traditions. What is surprising is that a section of religious Hindus, who take pride in being experts in scriptures, make  light of the guru. (coincidentally, guru also means heaviness)

I have a friend who has been reading the Bhagavat Gita regularly for the last twenty years. The other day I was surprised when he argued against the guru shishya parampara. He became silent when I pointed out that the knowledge of the Gita is a dialogue between a master and a disciple. The knowledge comes when Arjuna is ready as a disciple to receive the knowledge. The advice did not come as long as Arjuna considered Krishna merely as his friend.

The 7th sloka in Chapter 2 reads: (Arjuan says)

Karpanyadoshopahata swabhavah
pruchhami twam dharmasammudhachetah,
Yatshreyah syannischitam bruhi tanme
Shishyasteham shadhi mam twam prapannam.

(With my natural traits overcome by a sense of helplessness and sin, and my mind perplexed regarding my duty, I ask You – tell me that which is definitely good for me. I am your disciple; teach me who have taken refuge in You.)

The  Bhagavat Gita is a part of  Mahabharata which is  composed by Veda Vyasa on whose honour Guru Purnima is celebrated.

Sant Kabir dedicated many of his couplets (Doha) to the glory and grace of the Sadguru. He assigns Guru with a higher pedestal than God. The inescapable need of a Satguru in one’s life is brought out by the following couplet :

“To find the Guru is a great boon:
without Him, you are lost,
As the moth attracted by the lamp’s flame
falls into it in full knowledge!”

Of course, it has happened in some exceptional cases, like that of Astavakra or Sri Raman Maharshi who attained to spiritual awakening without the guidance of a Guru in Human form. So, one has to examine oneself and see if, one is has already reached to that stage of spiritual maturity, why should one take the trouble to find a spiritual master?

Other than those few exceptions, whether in spiritual life, or material life, or any kind of education,  everybody needs guidance till a certain stage, after which one may go on one’s own.

It is said that when the student is ready the master appears. Maybe, the Master has no role to play when the disciple gains the ability to walk on his own.

Coincidentally, today is Guru Purnima. I bow down with deepest gratitude to each and every one who has played the role of a Guru in my life, in matters material as well as spiritual.

even for gods one life is not enough – the ritual of nabakalebara

 

nabakalebara 2015
sand art by Sudarshan Patnaik

There are hundreds of festivals and rituals associated with the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri, the annual car festival, which falls on 25th June this year, being the most prominent one.

There is one ritual that is unique to this temple. The presiding deities of the temple – Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Sudarshan take new bodies after a gap of some years. It happens when there is a repetition of the month of Ashadha according to the Hindu calendar followed in Odisha. This ritual, known as Nabakalebara, happened last time in 2015.

The year round rituals associated with the Jagannath Temple are a mixture of vedic, tantric and folk traditions. What make the idols lovable are the rituals taken from folk traditions where the idols are treated as living human beings. So they are subjected to the daily routines beginning from brushing of teeth , bathing, eating and sleeping. Like it happens with a human beings,  the bodies are subject to death and decay. Following our philosophy of transmigration, the souls in the idols discard old bodies and get new ones.

The elaborate rituals associated with Nabakalebara starts with Banajaga Yatra – the journey to the forest to select the four neem  trees that would be used to make the idols. The trees must fulfill certain criteria like particular marks on its trunk among other things.  It is believed that the chief priest of the temple gets directions in his dreams about the location of the trees.  When a tree is identified, elaborate pujas are made in honour of the trees before cutting. While the usable parts are carried to Puri in a grand procession, the unusable parts are buried with respect.  Even a temple is built at the place where the tree stood. People consider each part of the tree and its surroundings to be divine  and people throng the place to celebrate with religious fervor.

After the idols are ready, the life force of each idol known as brahma  or pinda inside each idol is transferred by the chief priest to the new ones. This is a closely guarded secret. Nobody knows what that pinda  contains. People say the original flowers and other material put inside the idols during the earlier Nabakalebar are still found fresh.

The idols are made ready before the car festival or the Rath Yatra.  The old ones are buried  inside the temple at a place known as Koili Baikuntha with respect and rituals associated with the death of a near and dear one. The celebrations with the new idols are accompanied side by side by a kind of an unofficial state mourning  where the people of Odisha follow all the rituals associated with the death of a family member like not celebrating any auspicious ceremony at home for a period of one year.

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