A Siva story: Do what you want

As Sivaratri winds down, here’s a story — with Nandi, of course — for you:

Once lord shiva and his consort, Parvati, were travelling with their vehicle – the Bull. The Lord had taken the form of an old man, while, Parvatiji remained young and beautiful. On the road all passers-by looked on with amazement at this odd couple of an old man and a young woman.

On the way, Shiva said, ”Parvatiji, my dear, please sit and ride on the bull durig this journey.” She obeyed and mounted the bull while Shiva walked alongside. The village folk and other strangers bitterly criticised, ”What a selfish woman! She is young and healthy and yet she chooses to comfortably ride while forcing the old man to walk.” Shiva changed his mind. ”Parvatidevi, the people are mocking you. It is wiser that I sit and you walk.” So saying, Shiva sat on the bull’s back. Further along, other strangers came with sharper comments, ”O look at this mean, bully of a man. He’s fat and robust, and evil too. He enjoys the ride while forcing this young and gentle lady to walk on foot.”

Hearing this both of them climbed the bull. At least, this would ward off the criticisms. But they were gravely mistaken and no sooner had they come to the next village, people sneered and jeered. ”Look at this nasty couple. Both of them have mercilessly climbed upon the bull. They’ll kill the poor creature!”
Now there was only one option left. They dismounted and allowed the bull to walk freely. They accompanied it on either side. While they walked, they met new people with new bitterness. They laughed at them, shouting ”What foolishness! They have taken a bull as a vehicle and neither of them is using it.” Straight away Shiva told Parvati, ”Come let us do what we think is right, and live the way we want to. The world will never appreciate or see what we do as correct.”

In this world, even if we perform a good deed not everyone will like it and support it. The problem lies with the nature of our world. If a Sadhu shows miracles people say, ”He’s into black magic and possesses evil powers.” And if a Sadhu avoids miracles, some will mutter complaints, ”O! He shows no miracles. He’s ordinary and is of no use.” This is the line of thinking our world works on. It is crooked from both ends and whatever you do, the world will never see you straight. Therefore, pay no attention to the words of the worldly people and continue to devoutly worship God.

That’s from a website, 101 Tales of Wisdom. You can find more — including, I’d suspect, 100 other stories — at this link. (Also here, I think, more generally about BAPS.) The moral — to frame this in the traditional Western way — of this one, though, can’t be beat.

For another take, here’s a tale as told by Tim Miller.

Posted by Steve

Thinking about Sivaratri

Tonight as the sun dips and the full moon lifts, Sivaratri begins.

For those who can’t wait, a livecast of the Sivaratri puja is happening in Varansi. Check it out, here. (Hat tip to both Eddie Stern and Robert Moses, and, yes, the last Namarupa Yatra and the one this October did / will stop at this all-powerful temple. Bring your passports!)

Here’s a little more to think about as you prep for tonight’s all-night event. First, from the Broome Street Temple Facebook page, in answer to the question: Why do we stay up all night?:

One symbolic reason for remaining awake all night can be viewed in the following manner: It is has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If we wish to achieve something that we see embodied perfectly in another, we may remain near that person, and try to gain the experience of their knowledge through imitating their modes of activity. For example, if I wish to learn how to play an instrument, I could remain with a master musician and follow his instructions, and imitate his methods of practice, until I could play as perfectly as he. Then, after that is achieved, my own unique potential can be fulfilled, as a result of being grounded in the ways of one who has already reached some type of mastery.

Check out the full temple schedule.

And a second thing (hat tip this time to Naren Schreiner) from the Lakshmanjoo Academy:

JOHN: “Notions of thought” means actual thoughts themselves or even thinking of . . . ?

ERNIE: Even the seeds.

SWAMIJI: No, all thoughts.

JOACHIM: Any thinking activity.

SWAMIJI: Things other than spirituality, other than Lord Śiva. Those thoughts also have ended and the ingoing breath and the out-coming breath, these also have stopped.

. . . where these have stopped and all those notions of mind have stopped, that is Śiva rātri, that supreme Śiva rātri. That unique Śiva rātri is glorified. There, that Śiva rātri is glorified,[which generally occurs on] the dark half of the phālguna month98. Śiva rātri you know?

JOHN: Śiva rātri is the night of Śiva that comes in . . .

Om Namah Siva.

Posted by Steve

WWKD? WWVD? WWSD? A quick look at Hinduism

Interesting and worthwhile Q&A is up at the New York Times — I’m guessing only online, although that matters less and less all the time.

Two reasons to highlight it: Good content for us as well as wanting to see what mainstream people (at least those checking the NYT’s religion forum) are reading about Hinduism. The series is run by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. This time he interviews Jonardon Ganeri, a visiting professor of philosophy at New York University Abu Dhabi. He also is the author of “The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450–1700.”A few highlights:

G.G.: What do you mean by “non-theistic” concepts of the divine?

J.G.: One such concept sees the text of the Veda as itself divine. Its language, on this view, has a structure that is prior to and isomorphic with the structure of the world and its grammar is complete (although parts may have been lost over the centuries). The divinity of the text inverts the order of priority between text and author: Now, at best, assignment of authorship is a cataloging device not the identification of origin. Recitation of the text is itself a religious act.

Another Hindu conception of the divine is that it is the essential reality in comparison to which all else is only concealing appearance. This is the concept of one finds in the Upanishads. Philosophically the most important claim the Upanishads make is that the essence of each person is also the essence of all things’; the human self and brahman (the essential reality) are the same.

This identity claim leads to a third conception of the divine: that inwardness or interiority or subjectivity is itself a kind of divinity. On this view, religious practice is contemplative, taking time to turn one’s gaze inwards to find one’s real self; but — and this point is often missed — there is something strongly anti-individualistic in this practice of inwardness, since the deep self one discovers is the same self for all.


G.G.: What sort of ethical guidance does Hinduism provide?

J.G.: One of the most important texts in the religious life of many Hindus is the Bhagavadgita, the Song of the Lord. The Gita is deeply philosophical, addressing in poetic, inspirational language a fundamental conundrum of human existence: What to do when one is pulled in different directions by different sorts of obligation, how to make hard choices. The hard choice faced by the protagonist Arjuna is whether to go to war against members of his own family, in violation of a universal duty not to kill; or to abstain, letting a wrong go unrighted and breaking a duty that is uniquely his. Lord Krishna counsels Arjuna with the philosophical advice that the moral motivation for action should never consist in expected outcomes, that one should act but not base one’s path of action on one’s wants or needs.

G.G.: This sounds rather like the Kantian view that morality means doing what’s right regardless of the consequences.

J.G.: There are ongoing debates about what sort of moral philosophy Krishna is proposing — Amartya Sen has claimed that he’s a quasi-Kantian but others disagree. More important than this scholarly debate, though, is what the text tells us about how to live: that living is hard, and doing the right thing is difficult; that leading a moral life is at best an enigmatic and ambiguous project. No escape route from moral conflict by imitating the actions of a morally perfect individual is on offer here. Krishna, unlike Christ, the Buddha or Mohammed is not portrayed as morally perfect, and indeed the philosopher Bimal Matilal very aptly describes him as the “devious divinity.” We can but try our best in treacherous circumstances.

There is plenty more. Big hat tip to Robert Moses for sending the link along to me. It is good timing as we try to synthesis all our experiences from our Yatra — challenging and easy alike. There is another in the series on Buddhism, and you can find them all under a search for Gutting’s name (or just click here).

Yatra dispatch: Ashtanga, temple visits and getting close to Siva

By the accounts of those who have been on previous Namarupa yatras, this one has been intense.

We hit the ground running — literally. Among our first stops was the Chariot Festival at Chidambaram. It came after the extremity of Tiruvannamalai. Between the two, we experienced the pounding presence and power of Siva. He does not fool around.

We’re in Mumbai now; some already have left, and many others are leaving in the coming hours. And so there has been some reflection. One conclusion is we were fortunate we didn’t start up north with Ganesha temples because we would have been opened up and the Siva temples of the south would have wrecked havoc.

As it happened, we still had a foot solidly in our Western lives. You can read that as skepticism, irony or ignorance. Whatever it was, it acted as a little safeguard, as protection.

Last night, closing out our temple visits, we went to the Babulnath Siva Temple. And, continuing our run of luck, they were about to perform arati. I still can’t describe it — that will come, hopefully. It was entirely different from those in the South: drums, bells, collective chanting, clapping, heavy incense. But still the same Siva power, which I’ve only thus far been able to describe as like a black hole.

There was some havoc, I think. But many of us had another form of protection — perhaps in the form of immersion: our Ashtanga practices. The daily fire, the six-day-a-week internal agni we go through, I think, acts both as a ward against unraveling into nothing — that Indian syndrome we posted about a couple months back — and as a doorway into the experience, the intense devotional experience, of these temples, of India, of the darshan. It allows us to get, perhaps, a little close to it, too.

Close enough at the temple last night to lay out hands on the Siva linga.

Posted by Steve