How to conduct yourself inside a Hindu temple

Any Hindu temple is a holy place designated for public worship of God, where the form of God has been consecrated as per “Agama shastra” (procedures and rites based on specific scripture dealing with temple construction and worship). Traditionally, some temples (having a long historic background) may draw quite large number of devotees by virtue of certain reasons associated with the sacredness of the place, specific benevolences attributed to the presiding deity, the sanctification done by a great sage who stayed at the premises and practiced severe austerities and so on.

Many ancient temples are also rich treasure houses of traditional Indian art, sculpture and architecture; they serve as museums, too, for the tourists to come, view and appreciate the magnificent sculptural and architectural capabilities of the artisans of yore. There are also temples of recent origin available for easy accessibility to devotees near most of the residential localities.

Whether you are visiting a temple as a devotee or as a tourist, you should know how to conduct yourself at the holy premises. You may be surprised to notice that in reality even many Hindu devotees and the staff of the temple may not be following some of the guidelines here, but that need not be an excuse for you to ignore them.

Switch off your cell phone, or leave your cell phone in your vehicle

A visit to the temple is essentially to get some peace and tranquility in you from your hectic and distracting daily schedules and chores. Being always available to others’ call may give you a sense of self-importance and pride (and cell phones precisely give you that). Cell phones have proved to be one of the greatest “peace-disturbers” and you will be better off without them, at least during the few minutes of your stay inside the holy temple premises. Moreover, an unexpected ring of your cell phone has every potential to disturb the peace and tranquility of fellow worshipers inside the temple; respecting others’ sentiments and privacy can at least be practiced inside a temple, if not outside, too.

Leave your footwear outside the temple

Of course, all Hindus know of this fundamental requirement. Outside prominent temples, footwear stands will normally be available (either run free or for a nominal charge run by the temple authorities/ contractors). Where there is no such facility available, you can always find a shop nearby selling “puja articles” (coconut, flowers, garlands, camphor, etc.) and you can leave your footwear there and pay a nominal fee on your return. If you happen to purchase puja articles from them, they will take care of your footwear for free.

Dress conservatively

A visit to the temple is not same as a visit to the market or a theater. Women should dress modestly when going to the temple. Wearing of traditional dresses like Saree or Salwar-Khamiz (or Churidar), which cover the entire body of the woman is desirable. Wearing of tight-fitting jeans and T-shirts, half-pants or any other dress form that provocatively reveals the feminine form and distract men’s eyes should be strictly avoided. Where the temple premises are located inside an Ashram where Sanyasins (monks) and Brahmacharis (young bachelors in religious apprenticeship) live, the dress code for women becomes all the more important.

As for men, the general dress code is to avoid wearing colourful lungis; grown-ups are advised not to wear ‘bermudas.’ Wearing a traditional ‘Dhoti‘ is desirable. In India (particularly in South India, where the climate is mostly hot and humid), men remaining bare bodied above the waist in not considered indecent. Rather, going to temple bare-bodied above the waist is considered a sign of humility shown before God. This practice is particularly predominant in KeralaState. Many popular temples in Kerala (like Guruvayur temple) insist that men-folk should remove their upper garments before entering the temple.

Accept the dress code

As said above, if the temple customs demand that men-folk should remain bare bodied above the waist or if wearing a dhoti is insisted upon, or if women are thwarted from entering the temple in modern outfits, please accept the customs and do not enter into argument or a fight with the watchmen or with the authorities. You can always exercise your option of not going into the temple. Likewise, some temples may have entry restricted to foreigners belonging to other religions. It is always better to accept such restrictions rather than making an issue out of it and creating a scene.

Observe personal cleanliness

In India, it is the general practice that people go to temple after taking bath. Where the temple has a temple tank or where a river flows adjacent to the temple, bathing can be done there (if you are used to taking bath in public). Otherwise, the water of the temple tank (or the river water adjacent to the temple) is considered very holy and washing your legs and hands and sprinkling of the water on your head can be treated as a cleansing process equivalent to bathing.

Another commonly practiced discipline in India is that women do not visit temples during their menstrual periods. Visiting temples in a period immediately following the occurrence of a birth or death in the family is also avoided generally.

Do not gossip, talk aloud or indulge in fun and frolic inside temple

The temple atmosphere must help you and others to elevate the minds from the mundane to the spiritual, at least during the brief period of stay there. Using the temple as a place for get-together to make fun or to gossip about mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws or to discuss about politics must be avoided.

Chant God’s holy name, your mantra or hymns

It is said that the holy atmosphere in the temple has the power to augment your spiritual efforts. Chanting God’s holy name, repeating your mantra or recitingslokas (hymns) is highly recommended. But make sure that you do not do them loudly to show off or to impress or distract others. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahmsa says that our spiritual efforts must be secretive and never meant to show off to others.

Keep the temple premises clean

Never throw out plastic bags, paper waste, leaves, edibles, flowers, garlands, coconut shells or fibres indiscriminately around the temple premises. If the temple has the practice of giving sanctified food (prasad) for eating, do not throw it away if it is unpalatable to you. After eating, if you do not find water nearby to wash your hands, do not wipe your hands on the temple pillars! Where prasads like Kumkumor sacred ash is given to you, do not throw the excess stuff into the nearby recesses at the pillars and walls of the temple. Always take a piece of paper with you and fold them and keep with you.

Maintain silence, decorum and reverence at the Sanctum sanctorum

  • Where there is a queue to reach the sanctum sanctorum, follow it; do not try to jump the queue and gain an out-of-turn entry. Do not try to utilize your “influence,” even if you are a VIP. Practice humility at least in the holy atmosphere.
  • Maintain absolute silence in the presence of the deity; make your prayers silently. In your enthusiasm to devour the beauty of the divine form in full, do not obstruct the view of those standing behind you. Do not yell out God’s holy name too emotionally, as this could disturb other devotees who are silently praying to God. 
  • Strictly abide by the rules relating to local customs and procedures in the worship of the deity. For example, in North India, touching of the deity by the devotees may be permissible in some temples. But in South India, such is never the practice. Devotees can not even enter the sanctum sanctorum.
  • In case of performing “archana” (special prayers) to the God, if the temple has the system of buying tickets for it, follow the procedure; do not short-cut the procedure by paying money discreetly to the priests.
  • If the crowd is large, do not try to ‘steal’ more than your share of time in standing before the deity at the cost of irritating the other devotees. Do not get into argument with the temple staff members who are engaged in crowd control, who normally display a tendency to behave rudely with the crowd.
  • Respect the regulations. Be it standing in a queue, or paying money to the priest, breaking coconut or lighting camphor, if the temple has certain regulations, observe them and do not try to break the rules. 
  • Do not make the priests greedy. Unfortunately, many temple priests in small temples make a hand to mouth existence and they do not get any sizable pay from the temple authorities. They are normally allowed to collect the little tips that the devotees pay willingly. Do not resort to paying sums to the priests so as to get special entry or special treatment for you. Such practices tend to make the priests greedy and they tend to resort to giving differential treatment to devotees based on the amount of tips they get.
  • Do not engage yourself in prolonged and worldly chit-chats with the priests, which can prevent them from attending to the needs of other waiting devotees.

More “don’t”s

  • Maintain decency of behaviour. 
  • Do not ogle the opposite sex; 
  • do not smoke, drink or chew tobacco and betel leaves inside temple. 
  • Do not come into the temple in an inebriated condition. 
  • Do not spit or urinate in secluded corners. 
  • Do not utilize the exterior of the compound walls of the temple or the steps around the temple tank as a public toilet. 
  • Do not apply soap and washcloth in the temple tank. If you happen to be a local villager, do not take your cattle to the temple tank to bathe them there. 
  • If you are visiting the temple as a couple, you should never indulge in any nefarious behaviour treating the temple gardens, secluded corners and tanks as though they are romantic places of indulgence.
  • Do not desecrate the ancient sculptures and paintings. Nothing should be done knowingly or unknowingly to cause any damage to the rich art forms available to us through generations in the temples. Do not inscribe your name and your lover’s name in temple walls, pillars or tree trunks.

The above guidelines are meant for people who visit temples. Such disciplines (and perhaps even more stringent ones) are equally applicable to the priests and employees inside the temple, too.


How to Learn Wisdom from Nature – What Srimad Bhagavatam says about the Avadhuta Who had 24 Gurus

What is Wisdom? Practically all religions in the world talk about two classes of wisdom – one the knowledge about the world and the second, the knowledge about God. While scientists go about in their quest to gather all knowledge about the world, the spiritual persons go in search of knowledge about God.

Hinduism calls the “worldly knowledge” as a lower one (apara vidya) and the Godly knowledge as the supreme one (para vidya). Basic human tendency is mostly to go in for acquiring worldly knowledge. With his limited intellect, man thinks that only through acquiring worldly knowledge, he can multiply his happiness – by acquiring physical things he loves to possess and by satiating his sensual needs that the world can give.

But saints and sages cry repeatedly that no lasting pleasure can ever be attained by hankering after worldly pleasure and seeking worldly knowledge. Jesus Christ says that all the pleasures one seeks actually do not rest anywhere in the world, not even in any a heaven outside the world, but “the kingdom of God is within you”.(Luke 17-21)

Man constantly worries about earning money to eat and drink, and take due care of his body; worrying about his future, he accumulates and hoards. Then he worries about the safety of his wealth that he has so meticulously acquired.

This is precisely where birds and animals seem to be far better off than men! They have no worry about the morrow and they live for the day; they seem to enjoy every moment of their life by living in the present. Perhaps they may not have the intellect to know that it’s God who is protecting them always and ensures the supply of their food and comfort, but can’t men who have the intellect to analyze and deduce figure out that there is some higher force somewhere which is taking care of all these creatures?

If that higher force, who has created this world, the trees, the animals, birds and human beings can take care of the birds and animals that do not plan for future, can’t He take care of we humans too, who believe in his omniscience and omnipotence and surrender to Him in full faith?

Sources of Wisdom for a Seeker

One who has understood the hopelessness of hankering behind worldly pursuits turns to scriptures for guidance. But scriptures are like maps that can show the way, but cannot lead you to your destination. Religions like Hinduism insists on surrendering to a guru, a true knower of the Ultimate Truth, to take you closer to your destination, by explaining the “map” (scripture), by sharing his personal experience and by showering his grace. That’s the way for salvation for the most who are uninitiated in religion and spirituality.

But for the vigilant ones, who are blessed with inquisitiveness by birth, seeking true knowledge comes through their keenness of observation of everything around one, particularly the nature.

Learning Wisdom from Nature – A Hindu Monk’s Advice

While the culture of the west gives the highest accolade and respect to the rich, the powerful, and the worldly-wise, the eastern culture (as in India) gives the highest reverence to the saints and monks in the society, who relinquish everything materialistic and go in quest of God. In Hinduism, some monks opt to be wandering monks, possessing nothing for themselves, having no permanent shelter for themselves, eating food from whomsoever that offers to them, and dispensing divine knowledge to whomsoever keen to learn from them.

In Srimad Bhagavata Maha Purana , a holy mythological scripture (on the life of Lord Krishna and other divine personalities and Avatars) read reverently by the Hindus, there is a mention about such a wandering monk (“Avadhuta”) who had attained the highest knowledge, not by reading any scripture, not by surrendering to any guru and seeking guidance, but by keenly observing nature and gathering wisdom from it. (Refer Chapter 11-07 to 09). He says he had twenty-four gurus and most of them were from an assortment of birds, animals and creatures!

At the behest of his host, the Avadhuta explains in detail who those gurus from the nature were and what he learned from them. Let us see here a few of his “gurus of nature” and his explanations about them:

The fish

The fish which swims along the river carefree gets attracted by the bait in the hook of the fisherman. In its desire to enjoy it, the fish gets trapped in the hook and meets its end. In a human being, it is the desire to enjoy the sense pleasures that traps him to doom sooner or later.

The pigeons

The Avadhuta once saw a pair of pigeons living happily with their little siblings in a tree. Once when the parent pigeons were out to gather and bring food to their siblings, a hunter came and spread a net and the little pigeons got trapped into it.

When the parent pigeons returned, they were shocked to see their little ones trapped in the net. The mother pigeon, out of love and concern to save her children went near them and got herself trapped too. The father pigeon became motionless in utter shock at the sight of the sad plight of all his near and dear; the hunter simply came and snatched the frozen father pigeon too.

The Avadhuta learned from this the misery behind the attachment to the family and bondage behind it.

Picture source:

The Python

The python does not wander hither and thither in search of its food. It patiently awaits the crossing of an animal closer to its abode and snatches it to eat; whether it is good or bad, small or sumptuous, it does not care; it accepts what it gets and remains content at that. Likewise, a wise man accepts what comes to him unasked and is content at that. He does not hanker behind his sensual urges to acquire and taste things of transient pleasure.

The moth

The moth gets attracted by the light of the flame in the lamp and getting too close to the flame, the moth dies burnt.

For a man earnestly seeking God, likewise, the sexual attraction of a woman is too tempting to resist. If he gets too close to woman, he is sure to get lost in the Maya and miss his pursuit of God.

The Sun

The sun evaporates a large quantity of water by its heat; but it does not retain it for itself, but returns it in the form of rain back to the earth. Likewise, a wise man may acquire many material things in this world as they come to him; but he does not possess them for his own. He returns whatever he acquired back to the world at appropriate time.

The sun is reflected in water, be in pond, well, river or ocean at so many places but this reflection does not mean that the sun is divided and seen as so many parts. Likewise, the man of wisdom learns that it is one single Being (Atman) that gets reflected as so many individual souls in the living beings of this world.

The moon

From new moon to full moon and back to new moon, the moon waxes and wanes in phases. But it does not affect the moon in any way. Likewise, from birth to death, the human body grows and decays, but it does not affect the soul (Atman).

The ocean

The rivers that join the ocean may overflow with water in rainy season and go lean or dry in summer. But the ocean, whether rainy season or summer, does neither swell nor dries up. Likewise, the wise men will neither get overjoyed when they get great material wealth nor do they sulk if they get impoverished.

The Spider

The spider creates the web out of itself and withdraws it at its will. From this, one learns that God created this universe out of himself, he sustains it by his will and, as a master of time and causation, at His own will, he annihilates his creation and withdraws everything – all matter and living beings into himself.

Photo Courtesy: Mr Satish

The Serpent

The serpent never builds a home for itself. It occupies one built by other creatures (like an anthill) and leads a carefree life. But people toil and earn money to build a permanent shelter for themselves but they cannot live permanently for ever in it.

The Hawk

The Avadhuta once saw a hawk with a piece of meat in its beak being chased by several hawks that could not get anything to eat. All the other hawks were trying to snatch the meat from the one possessing it; at last, getting tired of flying to escape from its rivals, it let go off the meat. All the other hawks went behind the dropped meat and the hawk originally carrying it felt relieved.

The Avadhuta learned from this the hopelessness of acquiring and holding on to the material possessions. As long as one holds, he has no peace of mind and once he relinquishes what was previously dear to him, he attains peace of mind.

We have seen some samples of what the wandering sage learned from the nature and it’s an eye opener for all of us. After all, the whole universe is a creation of God, and it’s quite natural that his creation contains his invisible qualities. It is for the one who is seeking God to learn wisdom from His creation.


How to prepare yourself for meditation

Many people who undertake meditation with lots of initial enthusiasm discontinue it after a while. There are many obvious reasons for it. Hindu saints, who devised meditation as a means of attaining self-realization or Samadhi (or Nirvana in Buddhism) were quite aware of this stark reality. The goal of meditation being the highest, the task of succeeding in it is also the toughest.

To attain success in meditation, there are, in reality, several preparatory disciplines needed. A sportsman participating in 100-meter-dash is expected to run just for about 10 seconds only in the actual competition, but think of the extreme physical rigors he has to undergo just to tune up his body for the purpose.

In the same way, in Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga ( by Saint Patanjali), meditation comes only as the seventh and penultimate step in attaining Samadhi.

Swami Shivananda (1887-1963) the founder of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, used to retort to his disciples who complained about lack of success in meditation this way: “Meditation is only the seventh step. Have you succeeded in all the previous six steps?”

Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) absorbed in meditation)

The Preparatory Disciplines for Spiritual Meditation

Of the six steps preceding meditation, the first two are really concerned with attaining the physical and mental purity so basically essential for any spiritual aspirant to aim for a divine pursuit in life. They are yama (self-restraint) and Niyama(observances).

Then comes the right sitting posture (asana) and then the right breathing practice (pranayama). Pratyaharaand Dharana are the 5th and 6th steps that are at times considered as part and parcel of meditation itself. Unlike the first two, these four disciplines are closely associated with the actual practice of meditation. We can study them more deeply in separate articles.

Here, let us see in detail what the first two basics stand for:

  1. Practice Yama (self restraint): 

    Yama includes the following qualities:

  • Ahimsa: non-violence, non-killing, non-injury, remaining harmless. A body and mind inclined towards violence causing injury (both physical and mental) to others will be in an agitated state. Naturally calming it down through meditation is difficult.
  • Satyam: truthfulness, honesty.
  • Astheyam: non-stealing.
  • Brahmacharya: continence, being free from sensual cravings. Attraction towards sex is a taboo for any spiritual aspirant. Body and mind craving for sex can never be easily tamed by meditation. Any craving for other sensual pleasures is also highly detrimental in attaining concentration at meditation.
  • Aparigraha: non-covetousness, not yearning for gifts. In other words, non-attachment to materialism. To love things coming free is a human tendency that, when nurtured, increases one yearnings. A mind always craving for materialistic possessions becomes unfit to meditate. Further, getting a gift from a person makes one obligated to that person which can become a bothersome bondage.
  1. Practice Niyamama (observances or disciplined habits).

    Niyama includes the following:

  • Soucha: purity, cleanliness. This includes both external as well as internal. External purity is obtained by bathing, wearing clean clothes, etc. and internal purity comes by regular practice of yama.
  • Santosha: happiness, contentedness. Being happy with what you are and what you have, remaining contented without unnecessary cravings – this quality makes one fit for undertaking meditation. A person who gets upset for trivia, one who is mostly unhappy and dissatisfied with himself or with others around him will find meditation too difficult.
  • Tapas: practicing austerities, spiritual disciplines. Willingness to give up physical comforts, readiness to sacrifice, observing fast, tolerating physical suffering, engaging in regular spiritual practices, readiness to help others at the cost of one’s own personal comfort – these qualities elevate one’s mind to a higher level.
  • Swadhyaya: self study, spiritual study. Reading spiritual books, scriptures, life history and teachings of great spiritual masters will help one to constantly think of what is truly essential in spiritual life. This practice also negates reading novels, watching television and movies, reading newspapers, etc. which have the tendency to dissipate the mind on sensual and worldly matters.
  • Ishwara Pranidhana: worship of God, surrendering to God. Acceptance of God as the supreme power controlling everything in the creation is one of the best ways of subduing the ego. The more one surrenders and worships God, the more one is freed of the machinations of self-will and egotism. A mind thus unburdened finds it easier to do meditation.

How About Disciplines Needed For Non-Spiritual Meditation?

Meditation as promoted today through techniques like Transcendental Meditation is more for “commoners” who seek physical and mental well-being. For them too, some good measure of disciplines is essential if they want to pursue with meditation in the long run and reap the benefits aimed. Many drop out in the middle because they lack such disciplines in life. If one word is to be used for explaining what are the disciplines needed, it is “moderation”. They are given below:

Eat moderately, Eat “sattvik” (pure) food: Food is intrinsically connected with thoughts. Food, mild in taste and texture most preferably vegetarian, not too hot and spicy, not fried with excess fats and oils, has to be consumed in moderate quantities. Drinking alcoholic drinks must be either avoided altogether or curtailed heavily.

At least 2 to 3 hours should have passed after eating food when one sits for meditation.

Sleep Moderately: Both excess sleeping and inadequate sleeping are detrimental to doing meditation. A healthy person needs about 6 to 8 hours of sound sleep (which may vary with age and body nature) a day. Sleeping in the daytime can potentially affect doing meditation.

Enjoy sensual pleasures moderately: Whether engaging in sex, seeing movies, watching television, listening to music, speaking over the cell phone or whiling away time with friends – whatever be the activities, engage in them in moderation.

The more one progresses in maintaining the basic preparatory disciplines elaborated above, the more one will feel his/ her progress in meditation. A strong will, a sense of surrender to God and determination to succeed are needed for one to maintain these preparatory disciplines and reap success in meditation.


How to understand Trigunas – Sattwa, Tamas and Rajas – The ancient Hindu Psychology

Hinduism contains a very ancient and a remarkable analysis of human psyche and its constituents. This concept, known as Trigunas (three characteristics) is part ofSamkhya Philosophy which is a part of six orthodox systems (astika) of Hinduism, having allegiance to Vedic knowledge.

Samkhya school is considered one of the oldest Hindu systems of philosophy and its origin is attributed to Saint Kapila.

According to this school philosophy, from the causeless, infinite, unfathomable and intransient “Purusha”, everything that is manifest in creation – the worlds, the life forms, the matter and energy behind them all came on account of “Prakriti”; every being under prakriti is made up of the trigunas – known as SattwaRajas andTamas in its core psyche.

Trigunas: Sattwa-Rajas-Tamas

Sattwa is purity and holiness; Rajas is to do with action and drive and Tamas is laziness and inertia. In other words, every human being’s mind-stuff is made of a mixture of these three basic qualities in different proportions. All words, actions, temperaments, aspirations, conduct and character of every individual person are reflected by the proportion in which these three qualities exist in the mind.

No individual’s conduct, character, aspirations, values and drives are same as another person’s. Why is it so? It is purely because the ratio in which these three qualities are built in the psyche of each person is different.

To understand these qualities better, let us see what each of these qualities represents more elaborately.

Sattwa: Purity, holiness, devotion, serenity (Sage Sri ‘Kanchi PeriavaL’))

Sattwa (Purity and holiness):


Love, compassion, devotion to God (Bhakti), ahimsa (non-injury), truthfulness, non-stealing, discrimination (viveka), dispassion (vairagya), daya (compassion), thyag (sacrifice), kindness, soft-speak, control over senses, non-jealousy, honesty, non-covetousness, patience, forbearance, mercy, humility, guilelessness


Rajas (Action and Drive):


Activeness, boisterousness, hurry, action, impatience, passion, drive, ambition, motivation, power-mongering, manipulation, desire for leadership, domination, self-promotion, rule-breaking, pushy, love for coterie, love for subjugating others, love for grandeur, competitive instinct, workaholism, exhibitionism, strenuous effort, fighting spirit, strong belief in self-will, love for spending and extravaganza, materialism, loudmouth, assertiveness, avarice, authoritativeness, pride.



Tamas (Laziness and Inertia):


Laziness, dullness, sloth, greed sans effort, lack of motivation, fatalism, negativism, excess sleep, jealousy, envy, miserliness, pessimism, perverted desires, hatred, lust, obsession, deceit, vengeance, day dreaming, bashfulness, covetousness, gluttony, stealth, treachery, possessiveness, aversion, rumor mongering, back biting, dishonesty, laxity.

The Human Mind is a Mixture of Trigunas

In any human being, though all these three qualities will be present in varying proportions, generally one of these qualities will be more predominant than the other two. For example, Saints and sages are predominantly sattwic. A politician or a sports star is predominantly rajasic. People who easily get hooked to drinking or drugs are predominantly tamasic.

How do these qualities fundamentally find their place in a human psyche?      

One of the foundation stones of Hinduism is the concept of Karma and rebirth. Every human being takes birth in this world and engages in action – karma. Actions are driven by aspirations and desires; Aspirations and desires are propelled by vasanas, literally meaning smells, that you acquire based on the imprint of your past experiences (also known as samskaras).

Trigunas and Rebirth

Some of one’s desires may get satisfied through one’s actions in this birth whereas some may not; some actions create very strong samskaras inside one’s psyche and may even work like fuel added to fire to increase the cravings. But unfortunately, the human life span is limited. Hinduism says that when one dies, one’s unfulfilled desires, cravings, dreams, love, hatred, and spiritual aspirations are carried as vasanas along with the soul.

When the soul takes a rebirth, its psyche comes built essentially with the appropriate mix of Trigunas, based on the vasanas of its previous births.

Trigunas and the Process of Aging

In childhood, the trigunas remain buried deep inside and starts manifesting gradually as one ages.

Little children (up to the age of two to three) are not fettered by trigunas. They are not attached to Sattwa, Rajas or Tamas as grownups do. Great saints and divine souls too though essentially sattwic, live beyond the fetters of trigunas. That’s one of the reasons why little children are so divine, lovable and attractive.

As one grows into adulthood, one’s character evolves more clearly based on his inherent trigunas. It can be said that basic personality traits in a person remain more or less confined within certain boundaries, but they definitely evolve and get reshaped as one ages more and more.

Life is fickle. A person engaged in excessive action may one day long for a life of idleness and sloth; a person full of desires at heart but too lazy to act upon them may dream of an action-packed life; a person used to running madly for satiating selfish sensual pleasures may one day understand the futility and the pain behind such pursuits and he may want to rededicate his life to do selfless service to society. Aging and consequent physical limitations too influence one’s composition of trigunas.

Is it possible to make a self-assessment of the extent and proportion of sattwa, rajas and tamas inside us? Yes. By answering the quiz given in the following article, one can get a reasonably good picture on one’s constitution of Trigunas.

Bhagavad Gita, one of the greatest scriptures of Hinduism gives elaborate explanation on the role of Tigunas in human psyche. Click here to read on what Bhagavad Gita says on this subject.



How to see God – Part 1

Most of people have faith in the existence of God and trust that the creation and sustenance of the cosmos is under the command of that supreme power. Can that God be seen? 

Hinduism permits worship of God with name and form. Hinduism offers a variety of God forms suited to the taste and temperament of the worshiper, and the various forms, in reality represent one Supreme God. At the same time, Hinduism accepts God, at its ultimate reality, as one beyond name, form and attributes, beyond description, as Para Brahman.

Since God is attributed with name and form, can you see God in one of His glorious forms that Hindus worship? If, on the other hand,  God is perceived to be formless, can you in some way unequivocally feel His presence? If you are a Christian and you believe that Jesus is the son of God and believe his words that the father and the son are one, can you see Jesus?

Sri Ramakrishna “Yes, my son. I have seen God just as I am seeing you…”

“Have You Seen God?” : Vivekananda’s Poser to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

For the 19 year old Narendra (later, the world-renowned Swami Vivekananda) this question – can one really see God – was an ever-nagging one at his heart. Whenever he got a chance to meet any saint, monk or any holy person he was never hesitant to put forth his question point blank: “Have you seen God?”

At Dakshineswar Temple (Kolkotta, India), as he was seated in front of the seemingly madman-like middle-aged Brahmin saint – Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, (some time in the year 1885) he put forth the same question: “Swami, have you seen God?”

For the first time in his life, Narendra got the straight-forward answer from Sri Ramakrishna: “Yes. I see him just as I see you here, only in a much more intense sense.” He continued: “God can be realized. One can see and talk to him as I am seeing and talking to you. But who cares? People shed torrents of tears for their wife and children, for wealth or property, but who does so for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for him, he surely manifests himself”.

That impressed Narendra at once.

In the above conversation, Sri Ramakrishna throws an important clue as to why people are not able to see God. It is their attachment towards the world, their beloved ones, money and wealth.

Hinduism states that God is Satchidananda — Existance-Knowledge-bliss. Seeing God gives unequivocal bliss — million times more pleasurable than sexual pleasure, according to Sri Ramakrishna. To acquire such a bliss, the effort one has to put and the sacrifice one has to make are also the greatest.

Sacrifice – in Worldly Pursuit and Godly Pursuit

Take a simple worldly pursuit for example. A girl wants to become a celebrity model. Think of the extent of sacrifice she has to make and the rigor she has to undergo to achieve her goal. She can’t eat what she loves; sometimes she may have to go starving; she has to do her exercises very regularly which may prove to be tough and taxing; she has to spend hours over hours in putting up and removing make-up, in her haircare, skincare, etc.

Assuming that she becomes a super-model and a world renowned celebrity one day, does the status give her permanent happiness and bliss? She had to toil a lot to maintain her figure; As she ages, she has compete with upcoming and much younger models and perhaps lose out in competition one day; she may fade away one fine day from the limelight and exit the halls of fame. Later at life, she may even regret having wasted her youth in an unworthy and transient pursuit.

If such an ephemeral pursuit itself involves so much of sacrifice and hard work, think of the Godly pursuit, which Hinduism says is the greatest goal and the very purpose of life.

Sri Ramakrishna prescribes three things as essential for having a God vision. One is sacrifice, the second is yearning and the third, divine grace.

Need for Sacrifice for God Vision

The quest for having vision of God involves a two-fold sacrifice. First comes sacrificing of all sensual pleasures and the desire for money. “Kamini-Kanchana”. This ‘twin’ is the most oft-quoted one by Sri Ramakrishna. It means woman (sexual pleasure) and gold (money). (It is needless to say that in case of a woman seeking God, she has to shun her sexual yearning for a man). Kamini-Kanchana in a nutshell represents Maya at its gross.

Even if one were to get free from the clutches of this duo, the next one is too subtle to identify and get rid of. It is egotism. It is an uphill task to get rid of ego-centric cravings for recognition and fame, to dominate and control others, to do charity, to teach knowledge to the world and so on.

Need for Yearning for Seeing God

Added to these two greatest sacrifices, one has to have an intense yearning to see God. What is the extent of intensiveness needed in this yearning?

Sri Ramakrishna gives the benchmark: If one’s yearning to have vision of God is as intense as a miser’s love for his wealth plus a mother’s love for her child plus a chaste woman’s love for her husband — when the force of yearning existing in all these three are added together, then one can have the vision of God.

Another frequent example by Sri Ramakrishna is this:

Once a disciple asked his Guru: “Sir, how can I see God?”. The guru took the disciple chest deep into the river and suddenly pushed his head into the water. Though the disciple struggled to get out, the Guru did not loosen his grip for a while. Then he released his grip. The disciple swung his head out of water and was panting heavily. The guru asked him “How did you feel?” “Oh! I was so desperate to get my breath. I though I would die!” The Guru now replied to the disciple’s original question: “If you long for God the same way you longed to get your breath, then you will get a vision of God!”.

Which one is more important? Yearning for God or sacrifice? Sri Ramakrishna says that if the yearning for God is intense, then the sacrifices automatically follow suit. One who is desperate for God will lose attraction on anything else. Sri Ramakrishna says that the Path of love for God (“Bhakthi marga”) is best suited for the majority of aspirants.

Lord Krishna appearing before Surdas to hear his devotional singing

For some aspirants, sacrifice and yearning for God may progress hand in hand. For some, sacrifice may precede the arrival of intense love on God.

When the search for God takes sufficient momentum, at that point one gets his Guru who will guide him in the right path to achieve his goal.





Worshiping God with name and form is an accepted practice in Hinduism. When a devotee longs to see his God at the exclusion of everything else, God grants his vision. 

When an earnest seeker leaves behind all his cravings for sensual pleasures and other worldly pursuits, single-mindedly yearns for his only goal in life, namely to attain God, and his yearning is so intense as though he is gasping for air to breathe, he gets his divine vision, by the grace of God.

Lord Rama with his consorts giving darshan to Saint poet Thyagaraja

In Hinduism, God is attributed with name and form. The one and only God, who is omniscient and omnipotent, whom the Upanishads call the Brahman, who transcends all name and forms but who is the in-dweller in all the names and forms of His creation, will present himself as the personal God of the earnest seeker.

Some Popular God Forms in Hinduism and the idea of Personal God

Hinduism offers multiple God forms to suit the varying tastes and temperaments of the worshiper. ThusVaishnavites (the worshipers of Lord Vishnu, the God of protection) worship him as Narayana in his glorious form, lying reclined in his bed of 5-headed snake Adisesha, at his abode Vaikuntha, with his divine consort Lakshmi. He is also worshiped in standing posture. Vishnu is also worshiped in any of his popular forms of Avatar — Rama, Krishna, Narasimha and so on.

Likewise, a saivite ( worshiper of Lord Shiva, the destroyer) may worship him in his glorious form wearing tiger skin at the waist, smearing ash all over his body, carrying a trishul at his hand and a snake adoring his neck. Or Shiva can also be worshiped in his form as Nataraja, the cosmic dancer or as Artanari, with half of his body taken up by his wife Shakti.

There are also devotees who worship Shakti (or Kali) as their personal God, who is considered the universal divine mother.

Likewise there are several options of God forms (refer An introduction to the various Gods in Hinduism) available to a Hindu to worship God in a form most lovable and dear to him. Though this may be baffling to non-Hindus, great Hindu masters however declare that this is one of the greatest practical benefits of Hindu theology. “When you see your father’s photo, you think of your father” says Ramakrishna. Your father is quite dear to you, though he could be a total stranger to a third person.The “form” of your father is quite useful to you in your remembrance of him and in your mental communication of your love towards him.

Your relationship with your father is thus personal and it is dear to your heart. In the same way, in Hinduism a worshiper of God establishes an Ishta, a specific God form that he can love and establish a personal relationship.

If we extend this concept to Christianity, then from a Hindu angle, Jesus, the son of the father in heaven and who is none other than the father, is the ishta of Christians. By loving Jesus, by worshiping him and by surrendering to him, they communicate with God.

Loving The Personal God all Out – Nishtha Bhakti

The earnest seeker loves his personal God with a single pointed, unwavering devotion. He treats his personal God virtually as the one and only true form of representation of the all pervading God, presenting Himself easy, amenable and available for his adoration and worship. He is not really concerned with questions or doubts as to whether God, who is considered omniscient, omnipotent, infinite and beyond the reach of mind and intellect, can truly be restricted to the single name and form that he personally adores.

A true devotee and lover of God, having such a mindset, has no use for intellectual analysis about God. Hinduism actually encourages this single pointed devotion (Ishta Nishtha) as one of the best ways of relating to God. “What is needed is a child-like faith” ascertains Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

This single-pointed love (nishtha) on the personal God (Ishta) can get gloriously narrowed down to much further and finer levels too. A devotee of say, Lord Krishna, might be simply overwhelmed by the enchanting form of Krishna as a small cowherd boy and may get enthralled to read about Krishna’s divine plays and childhood pranks.

His love for God in Krishna’s form could be restricted to “Bala Krishna” (boy Krishna) only and he may not find any joy in imagining his God as a grown up Lord Krishna who is such a mighty personality that delivered the great spiritual discourse Bhagavat Gita to his companion Arjuna.

Pure Love For God (Prema) – The Need Before Vision

When such a highly focused love on a personal God turns to a passion, the devotee forgets everything else, even the basic human instinct to take care of his own physical body; Such a state of love on God is called “Prema Bhakti.”

When Prema Bhakti arrives, the time becomes ripe for him to get a divine vision of his personal God in all His glorious form that can render the devotee speechless with wonder. Ramakrishna says, “Prema is the rope by which you can tether God, as it were. Whenever you want to see him, you have to merely pull the rope. Whenever you call him, He will appear before you.”

Pure Mind, Pure Intellect and Pure Atman

When a devotee’s words, thoughts and actions are entirely filled with his love of his personal God, his mind is no longer an ordinary mind; his intellect is no longer an ordinary intellect. His mind is the purest of the minds; his intellect is the purest of the intellects. “Such a pure mind and the pure intellect are one and the same as the pure Atman residing inside him,” says Ramakrishna.

“When a devotee of Rama always thinks of Rama at the exclusion anything else, he himself becomes “Ramamaya (embodiment of Rama),” Ramakrishna adds. At the heightened spiritual state when the devotee becomes purity personified, what is left with him is pure Atman, which is nothing else than Rama for a Rama devotee. And this is the vision of the personal God that the devotee gets.

A non-believer may ask at this juncture: Is there any history of any such “seer of Rama”, to cite an example? Yes. there are several Hindus saints who have had the vision of Rama. One of the most recent saints whom we can recall here is Papa Ramadas, of Anandashram. We shall see his experience elaborated in another hub in this series.

Can God be Seen with Physical Eyes?

At another occasion, Ramakrishna says, “God cannot be seen with the physical eyes. When a devotee is filled with Prema, he gets a “love-body” and also organs made of prema (love) – love eyes, love ears and so on. It is with this “love eye” that one sees God… It is like a person having jaundice seeing everything yellow… One who thinks of God day and night beholds him everywhere.”

Ramakrishna – One Who has Seen God in Various Forms

Ramakrishna himself is a standing example of a person who had vision of his personal God Kali (the universal divine mother) . We shall see in the next part of this series, Ramakrishna’s ecstatic experience of his very first divine vision of Mother Kali, explained in his own words.

Though Ramakrishna is a living embodiment of divine love of his personal God, he is unique in his experience in having the visions of many other popular God forms of Hinduism like Shiva, (avatars) Rama, Sita, Krishna, Radha and Gouranga.

He has experimented with all other sects of Hinduism where God is perceived as formless and had the unifying experience of Advaita (non-duality) also in a meditative condition called Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He practiced other religious faiths too and had a vision of Jesus Christ and also experienced Allah at his heart.

In the next part of this series, we shall see Ramakrishna’s experience in getting the vision of his beloved God Mother Kali.

More Questions and Doubts about Having God Vision

For those who are not Hindus and for those who are new to the above concepts, there may be several questions and doubts like:

  • Vision of God means what? In what form? Suppose one is a Christian, can he have a vision of Jesus?
  • What if one does not believe in God with form?
  • What happens to the famous non-dualistic philosophy of Hinduism where it is stated that there is no difference between individual soul and supreme soul? Where do those who believe it fit in?
  • What other disciplines should one practice? Where do formal worship, repeating God’s holy name (Japa), meditation etc fit in?
  • Some say, attain God by serving the humanity. Why do they say so?

Based on the teachings and the shared experiences of great masters like Sri Ramakrishna, we shall delve deep into the subject further in the following:

How to see God? Part -2


Know Your Personality Through Triguna

Triguna, meaning “three qualities” is one of the ancient psychological concepts available in Hindu scripture. According to this concept (available from Samkhyaschool of Indian philosophy) human mind is made of Sattwa (purity, holiness),Rajas (activeness) and Tamas (laziness, inertia). These three qualities exist in various proportions in men and their combined effect determines one’s personality.

For a more detailed understanding of Trigunas, you may please readundestanding Triguna” first, before starting to answer the quiz here to know your personality though Trigunas.

This quiz has 3 sections each with 10 statements. Each of these 3 sections pertains to Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas respectively.

Based on your personal assessment about yourself, please answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following 3×10 statements. Each ‘Yes’ carries 1 point and each ‘No’ carries 0 point. If you are not sure of yes or no, think again: the emphasis to all questions is about your “strong” beliefs and feelings. If you do not feel “strongly” to answer ‘yes’, it amounts to answering ‘no’ only.

Group: A (Sattwa – Purity, holiness)

A-1)”I believe man’s duty is to lead an unselfish life by helping others in all ways possible. Many times I am deeply pained seeing hunger, poverty, suffering, terrorism and anarchy; I think deeply on what I can personally contribute to reduce suffering in this world.”

A-2)”I strongly believe that God exists and everything happening in this world is at His command.”

A-3)”I strongly believe any form of killing of creatures – for food, for religious sacrifice or for scientific/ medical experiments – is outright wrong.”

A-4)”I feel human life has plenty of contradictions and unanswered questions; I wonder many times whether the life of running behind money, power, sensual enjoyments and so on has any lasting purpose or worth. Sometimes the whole life appears just like a long dream to me.”

A-5)”I don’t get angry or upset easily. When in joy, I don’t become too jubilant.”

A-6)”I am very humble and don’t like to boast about my achievements. People don’t consider me a very egoistic person. People generally show respect to me for my conduct and character.”

A-7) “I strongly believe sensual enjoyments do not give lasting happiness; I believe the more we keep away from them or moderate them, the more peace and tranquility we get. I believe celibacy is a great virtue (though it is difficult to practice for most).”

A-8) “I have lots of reverence for holy saints and seers who have relinquished the world in quest of God. I believe realizing one’s true nature or realizing God can be the loftiest goal of human life.”

A-9) “I have few enemies. I don’t get too upset when criticized. I may dislike a person’s words or actions but that does not make me end up in hating that person. I can easily forgive and forget.”

A-10) “I am more interested in reading Bible, Bhagavat Gita and such holy scriptures with a thirst to grasp their true wisdom, than reading them superficially or out of compulsion. I also feel holy scriptures are not really meant for intellectual analysis and interpretation or for giving eloquent discourses, but to use them as a guide to tread the higher paths they show.”

Add up your sattwa score:

Now total up the number of ‘yes’ you have answered. The analysis is as below:

7-10 points : You are highly sattwic. You have potential divine qualities in you.

4-6 points: You are moderately sattwic. You have good seeds of spirituality sprouting inside you.

0-3 points: You have low sattwic qualities. You don’t have much of spiritual inclination.

Depending on your scores that you have to take in the next two parts of the quiz on Rajas (action and drive) scale and Tamas (laziness and inertia) scale, your overall personality can be assessed at the end.

Group:B (Rajas- Activity, drive)

B-1) “I don’t think the idea behind “eat, drink and be merry” is wrong. I believe life must be enjoyed to its full. There is nothing wrong in earning a lot so as to spend it on enjoyment.”

B-2) “I believe idleness is a crime. Working hard to earn well must be the way of life. Hard work has its own joy. I cannot tolerate a lazy person, be it a saint or a beggar.”

B-3) “I believe in goal setting and achieving it in life. It gives meaning to our life. “Never give up hope; do not get troubled by failures; do not believe in fate; march along; reaching the goal is more important than the path you tread” – such words always impress and inspire me.”

B-4) “I don’t think selfishness is evil. I you look around, practically everyone is working for his/her selfish ends. I believe, at times, in your quest for success, you can’t help but tread over a couple of others and there is nothing too wrong about it. I believe survival of the fittest is the law in this competitive world too.”

B-5) “Money, possessions, power, status, leadership, position, fame (or notoriety), manipulative capacity, a high degree of visibility of my face in the society or in the media – all these are like heady brews for me. I believe that enjoying some or all of them give meaning to my existence in this world.”

B-6) “I really enjoy viewing competitive sports, action movies and thrillers. I love to do regular exercise, spend time in gym, take part in active sports; Many times unfortunately I can’t always allocate time for these activities because of my tight engagements.”

B-7) “I admire very popular sports stars, very famous models, pop singers, Movie Heroes/ heroines and very successful politicians and consider some of them as my role models.”

B-8) “I believe in religion as long as it serves for the welfare of society. I would any day respect a person who toils for the welfare of the downtrodden than one who sits inside the church to pray and read bible. I believe saints who seclude themselves from society and search for Godliness in loneliness are not worthy of reverence.”

B-9) “I am extremely attached to my family, profession/ business, wealth and comforts. I feel I am duty bound to provide my children the best of everything within my capacity – comforts, education, status and security for the future.”

B-10) “I enjoy traveling, seeing different people, different cultures, societies and lifestyles. I don’t believe in retirement. People should lead an active life till the end of life. I believe one should never think or feel about one’s age impose restrictions on oneself, citing aging as a reason.”

Add Up Your Rajas Score:

Now total up the number of ‘yes’ you have answered. The analysis is as below:

7-10 points: You are highly rajasic. You have a very high degree of worldly desires and drive in you.

4-6 points: You are moderately rajasic. You are a reasonably active and energetic person.

0-3 points: You have low rajasic qualities. You are not a person with ambitions, drive and motivation for worldly success.

Depending on the scores that you got in the previous quiz on Sattwa and in the next part of the quiz on Tamas scale, your overall personality can be assessed.

Group:C (Tamas – laziness, inertia)

C-1) “I believe those who have very wealthy parents are really lucky. They can always enjoy good life without stressing and straining themselves.”

C-2) “Whenever I eat, I would eat to my stomach-full. I particularly enjoy anything non-vegetarian. If I am hungry, I get restless. I tend to gobble up anything unmindful of taste and quality.”

C-3) “I believe being a couch-potato has its own bliss which many so called active people do not know of. I hate physical exercises. Though I may envy physically fit and shapely figures, I can’t think of physically straining myself to get an attractive figure.”

C-4) “For me, accumulating a huge bank balance is a lot more pleasurable than spending money on essentials and non-essentials. Let people call me a miser. I just don’t care.”

C-5) “I always tend to over-sleep and, to be frank, I enjoy it. Sleeping in day time has its own pleasure that many busy people are never aware of.”

C-6) “I hate traveling. I feel traveling and running around unnecessarily strain me physically and disturb my eating and sleeping patterns.”

C-7) “I am addicted to alcoholic drinks / smoking / drugs. Even if I cannot be classified as an addict, my love for these indulgences is quite deep-rooted and I feel life is not worth living if these are taken away from me.”

C-8) “I am strictly against any religious or moral censures against polygamy, premarital sex, orgy, extra marital relationship, homo-sexuality or lesbianism.”

C-9) “Frankly, I have no respect for so-called saints, religious masters and Gurus. Most of them are fake; they talk eloquently about God and morality but I believe most of them enjoy sex and wealth secretively.”

C-10) “I may not be rich today but I am confident lady luck will smile at me one day. According to my astrologer, my life will take a huge leap forward in the next few years. Frankly I envy those who are filthy rich and enjoy life. The only difference between them and myself is just one thing – damn luck. “

Add up your tamas scores:

Now total up the number of ‘yes’ you have answered. The analysis is as below:

7-10 points: You are highly tamasic. You have a very high degree of laziness; Animal tendencies are strongly lurking inside you.

4-6 points: You are moderately tamasic. You seem to enjoy inactivity and day dreaming.

0-3 points: You have low tamsic qualities. You are not a person who enjoys idling or fooling around.

Depending on the scores that you got in the previous quiz on Sattwa and Rajas scales, your overall personality can now be finally assessed.

Since thousand permutations and combinations are possible with these scorings, so much of variations in personalities are possible based on this simple 30 point sample questionnaire. Even if we take ‘High’,’medium’ and ‘low’ sub-groups in the 3 gunas, we will still get 36 general varieties in personalities.

Now now your overall personality based on all the three qualities

However, we shall now discuss a few typical personality traits based on some sample major group combinations from Trigunas, with sample scores obtained in the 3 quizzes.

Sample Case 1: Sattwa: very high (10), Rajas: Medium (5), Tamas: Very low (0):

This is a saintly person actively serving the society. His spirituality is very well evolved; he is not a saint who loves seclusion and he may not be of the philosopher type. He is more of a Karma Yogi (man of action). Through unselfish and tireless service, he would dedicate his life for the welfare of the people.

Sample Case 2: Sattwa: High (9), Rajas: very low (0), Tamas: low (2)

This is a man of high spiritual yearnings, who has no attraction for the materialistic world. He is more of a Gnyana Yogi (man of wisdom) or a Bhakti Yogi (a devotee of God)than of a Karma Yogi (man of action). He is more inclined to talk of maya and the impermanence of the world than to physically strain himself with lofty ideals to serve humanity.

Sample Case 3: Sattwa:Medium (4), Rajas: High (9), Tamas: low (3)

This is a man, deeply rooted in enjoying the world, but at the same time, having constant questions nagging at his mind about his way of life and an inclination to look into spirituality to get answers. His mind constantly fluctuates between enjoying life by compromising his morality at one end and desiring self-restraint at another end, because it appears to be good for the long term peace. When tempted, he would rather choose worldliness over Godliness.

Sample Case 4: Sattwa: Low (2), Rajas: High (9), Tamas: low (2)

This is the type of man who has very strong leadership tendencies, a highly motivated achiever, one who is deeply entangled in worldly activities with very little concern for the society or about religion, spirituality or morality.

Sample Case 5: Sattwa: Medium (6), Rajas: Medium(4), Tamas: low (3)

For this man, worldly life has its own strong attractions but concern about the society and inclination towards spirituality are there too. Life is not too hectic for him.

Sample Case 6: Sattwa: Low (3), Rajas: low (3), Tamas: high (7).

Here is a person, stooped in laziness and sloth and leading a life of day dreaming and disillusionment. He is likely to be an alcoholic or drug addict. He will blame every one except himself for all the ills of his life.

We have so far discussed some of the most peculiar combinations of the Trigunas. There will be subtle variations in the characters of people based on the finer variations in the points scored in each group.

Trigunas and Spirituality:

Unlike other systems of psychology, the concept of Trigunas has its strong moorings in Hindu spiritual philosophy. Hinduism strongly advocates that the very purpose or goal of human life is Yoga — attaining oneness with God or realizing one’s true nature of Atman (self). And this yoga – union can be attained only by transcending Trigunas. It is the one who has transcended Trigunas is the liberated/ realized soul, a true Gnyani, freed from births and deaths.

Related reading:


Introduction to Meditation – Preparation, Methods and Practice

Meditation is a disciplined practice to attain control of the mind, by way of limiting the flow of thoughts and then ultimately leading to a state of consciousness with cessation of thoughts. The goal of meditation at a “lower” level is to attain physical and mental well being. At a “higher” level, it is to realize God or the Atman – one’s true inner-self.

The Hindu system of meditation has only one fundamental goal – God realization or realizing the Atman, which are one and the same, viewed from two different perspectives. But this quest of the ultimate goal is never easy; for an earnest aspirant, it may even take several births to attain it. Such a “higher goal” could at the best be the bastion for only a woefully small minority of people.

But the effort put in meditation never goes a waste; meditation calms down the mind, improves one’s mindset and mental well-being and enhances one’s physical health too. It is by grasping these benefits that meditation has evolved into a ‘science’ to offer these fringe benefits, namely the physical and mental well-being for the benefit of the majority.

Before going into the ways of learning meditation, some basics about the mind and its relationship with the body have to be understood.

The mind – body relationship

The mind is known as the subtle body. All our emotional dualities – pleasure and pain, peace and restlessness, anger and compassion, love and hate etc are all caused by the unceasing activity and oscillations of the mind. The mind has its existence only in the form of flow of thoughts. The more turbulent the flow of thoughts is, the more are the fluctuations of emotions. The less the flow of thoughts in the mind, the more peace and tranquility does one get. If the mind could cease its activity altogether, one transcends the dualities of pain and pleasure, the relative and the absolute – a state known as “Ananda” or bliss or Samadhi.

It is a known fact that gross (physical) body functions as a slave of the mind. Physical activeness, fitness or sickness has its intrinsic connection with the mind.

The converse is also true. The condition of the gross body affects the condition of the mind. The vital force that controls the body is known as Prana, whose gross function is breathing. Functioning of the mind and prana (breathing) are intrinsically interlinked. When the mind slows down, breathing slows down; conversely, when breathing is controlled, mind is controlled. The control of the breathing by disciplined practice is known as Pranayama.

Lured by the umpteen “schools” that profess teaching easy ways to do meditation, many think that it is akin to learning some form of fitness exercise – learn the basics and procedure and then go meditating happily ever after! Nothing could be more naïve than that!

Mind is compared to a male elephant in heat; mind is compared to a monkey which can’t sit in a branch ever for a short while. Our mind is a storehouse of accumulated impressions (called vasanas) and the moment one sits to meditate, the store-house opens and one faces a flood of thoughts that can thwart one even from doing even a semblance of meditation! Whatever be the “easy” way to meditate, be forewarned that it may take even years for the “less-prepared” ones to calm the mind for 10 full minutes.

Holy bath for external purity (Niyama)

The 8-stage Yoga – Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga

The Eight-steps in Patanjali Yoga are:

  1. Yama (Self control/ morality)
  2. Niyama (Disciplines)
  3. Asana (Physical Posture)
  4. Pranayama (Breath control)
  5. Prathyahara (withdrawal of mind from senses)
  6. Dharana (Focusing mind on a single point)
  7. Dhyana (Meditation)
  8. Samadhi (Attainment of Unity with Divine)


Sitting in Padmasana (Lotus posture) and doing Pranayama

The Hindu system of 8-stage meditation guidelines (known asAshtanga yoga) as professed by Saint Patanjali (in his Yoga Sutra) places meditation at the 7th out of 8 stages, the last one being,Samadhi. All the 6 stages preceding meditation are only preparations that make one qualified better to succeed in meditation.

The first two preparatory steps are known as yama and niyama. If the goal of meditation is the “Higher one”, it goes without saying that these two steps are extremely important.

Yama covers non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-covetousness. Niyamacovers internal and external purity, contentment, austerity, study of scriptures and a sense of surrender to God.

Assuming that the goal of meditation is only the “lower one”, even then certain basic disciplines are important to get benefits of meditation. They are:

(a) Moderation in intake of food
(b) Moderation in sleep
(c) Moderation in indulgence in sensual pleasures and physical activity.

Excessive eating or inadequate eating and excessive sleep or inadequate sleep will act as hindrance in practicing meditation. One should not undertake meditation when the stomach is full. At least 2 to 3 hours should have passed after eating when one sits for meditation.

Moderate and simple stretching exercises (which are calledYogasanas) can make the body conducive for undertaking meditation.


Choose a nice and calm place for meditation

The sitting posture (Asana) must be comfortable. Sitting on a flat surface over a soft mat or a folded blanket (but not too thick a cushion), cross legged in the posture known as “Padmasana” (Lotus posture) is the best. But, for westerners not used to sitting cross-legged, sitting on a bench, hanging the legs down is acceptable. Sit erect, with the spinal chord and neck vertical. Place your hands on your knees or clasp your fingers and place your palms near your stomach.

The choice of place for undertaking meditation should be calm, free from possibilities of disturbance, unobtrusively ventilated and comfortable. Certain holy places (certain mountains and hills, certainriverbanks, forests, temple premises and places where the mortal bodies of great saints were laid to rest) are very conducive for undertaking meditation.

Meditation is best practiced at early morning known as Brahma Muhurtha(after 4:00AM till sun-rise), noon, evening (at about 6:00, around sun-set) and at mid-night.

We have already discussed aboutPranayama, the breath control. It is generally said that Pranayama helps one to prepare effectively for meditation. Kriya Yoga is one popular method for Pranayama. Pranayama involves slow breathing in, holding and slowly releasing the air from the lungs at controlled timings. There are also schools of opinion which do not insist on practice of Pranayama. 

Sri Sri Ravishankar — The Hindu guru who is popularizing the Pranayama Technique ‘Sudarshan Kriya;

A word of caution about Pranayama

It is extremely important that pranayama must be learned from a properly trained and trust-worthy Guru. It should be practiced strictly under the direct guidance of the guru in the initial stages. Uncontrolled and unguided practice of pramayama has potential dangers of creating troublesome side effects. Any attempt to practice it in excess (of one’s physical capacity) must be shunned.

Considering such risks, there are some spiritual traditions that do not emphasize the need for practice of Pranayama. Saints like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Saradadevi, Ramana Maharshi, Mata Amritanandamayi and the like do not really give undue importance to the practice of pranayama.

Some techniques of meditation offered by different Gurus

When we come to procedure, it’s here that we come across myriad options and schools of practice. Hinduism insists that one should learn meditation from a qualified Guru.

Some of the various methods professed by different schools are:

(1) Meditate on the form of your favorite God

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa says practice of intense love on ‘ishta’ (favorite/ personal God) and meditating on Him is the easiest way.

This is the most widely suggested method for Hindus, who have the natural flair for establishing a loving relationship with physical forms of God. Bhakti (devotion) is the easiest to way to relate to God according to Saints like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

Know your Ishta (favorite God) first. If it is ,say, Krishna, keep a picture of Krishna before you, intently watch Him, close your eyes and meditate on his form within your mental eye. if you can’t get His whole form, even meditating on his lotus feet or his glowing face is quite fine. Let all other thoughts except your ishta’s form be wiped away from the mind.

2) Do Mantra Japa and immerse yourself in the thoughts of God

Papa Ramadas – The saint who strongly recommends Mantra Japa

Learn a Mantra (generally the holy name of your favorite God beginning with Om) from your Guru, repeat it by concentrating on the God-form or on the sound or on the meaning of it. In the recent past, Papa Ramadas was a great votary of the efficacy of Mantra. Naam (the Mantra of god), Dhyan (Meditation) and Seva (service) are the ways he recommended for spiritual progress.

Mantra Without God Form

As per the school of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, A Mantra can also be just a syllable, without relation to a God (as practiced in “Transcendental Meditation“).

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became extremely popular in west as he could offer TM as a meditation technique for people with no interest in religion or spirituality.





Maharshi Mahesh Yogi – The saint who took TM to the west.



“Who am I?”

Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi

For that, meditate with an inquiry: “Who am I?” Inquire by negation “I am not the body, I am not the mind, I am not the ego…” Proceed till mind settles in its inner most recess at peace. If a stray thought comes up, “Ask where from has this thought come?” The reply is “from inside me”. Then look deeper and go to the source of the evolution of the “I” thought in you. Kill all thoughts in the same way as and when they emanate and establish yourself in thoughtless state.

According to Ramana Maharshi, this is the “straight path” practicable by all needing no external support like pranayama, bhakthi (devotion) on God, worship of divine forms or chanting of mantra.

4) Relax-Chant Om-Delve deep-Watch your breath (Ma-Om) and Meditate – the IAM Technique

The Integrated Amrita Meditation(IAM) technique evolved by divine mother Mata Amritanandamayi can be learned free of cost from qualified trainers from Mata Amritanandamayi Math. According to the IAM technique, the watching of the breath is coupled with “Ma-Om” mental chanting while inhaling and exhaling. Certain prescribed Yogasanas too are to be practiced before doing meditation. (To be learned from qualified trainers only. See introduction to IAM technique in the video below).

Integrated Amrita Meditation (IAM) – benefits

Sri Abhinava Vidya Tirtha Swami of Shrinkeri Sarada Math. According to his biography, Lord Shiva himself taught him Kundalini Yoga in his dreams and made him visualize all the Chakras, the presiding deities of each chakra and experience Samadhi.

5) The Kundalini Yoga

(7) Awaken the “Serpent Power – The “Kundalini” and imagine its traverse through various nerve centers (Called Chakras) along the spinal chord (This is the “Tantrik Method”, never to be practiced without Guru’s guidance).

And there are more and more techniques….

What we discussed above are only a few techniques offered by great masters of Hinduism. There are so many other techniques evolved by so many other Hindu and Buddhist monks being practiced by different schools of religions and sects. Ultimately, a sincere and earnest seeker will surely end up in the right school and technique for meditation by the will of God.


All these techniques are aimed at withdrawing the mind from running behind sense objects and turn it inwards (known as pratyahara by Saint Patanjali – the 5th stage) and then making the mind focused on single point (known as dharana – the 6th stage). Remaining steadfastly focused is dhyanam (7th stage). When mind transcends even this stage and remains in thought-free awareness, it is Samadhi(8th stage). Some say that all these three – pratyahara, dharana and dhyanam put together is meditation.

Though these guidelines may look too simplistic,practicing them to perfection is not an easy task. One has to practice with perseverance, never losing heart and never slacking on the preparatory disciplines. In the beginning, one may try to sit in meditation for 5 minutes and gradually increase the period to 15 minutes and more. Experience will tell you that duration of sitting many a time will be beyond your control.

What is the sign that you are really doing meditation and not simply watching the plays enacted by your mind? When mind is truly focused or truly stops, it transcends time. One tell-tale indication of successful meditation is this: When you open your eyes after meditation thinking that some 10 minutes would have passed, but you find that almost 20 minutes have gone. Yes! You have succeeded in meditation. Another indication is: your erect posture will remain so when you open your eyes; you would not have stooped nor slouched from your position. Drowsing to sleep is a normal problem faced by many beginners! If done rightly, you will feel very refreshed, peaceful and contented when you wind up your meditation session.

To repeat, the preparatory disciplines are quite important in succeeding in meditation. Surprisingly, you will also find that as you practice meditation with perseverance, your capacity for self-discipline also improves; you will find that you are able to gain control over your sense organs and also the mind’s tendency to hanker behind sense-pleasures.

Know your goal; learn from a qualified Guru and practice with determination to succeed in meditation.



Murugan – the Hindu God of Tamils

Murugan is hailed as ‘Thamizh kadavul’ — the Lord of Tamils by poets and Tamil cultural exponents who take pride in the uniqueness of Tamil culture. Murugan is a popular deity widely worshiped in Tamil Nadu and also in Kerala, Karnataka and Srilanka. Worship of Karthigeya or Subramanya (other names of Muruga) is rather sporadic in other parts and linguistic segments of India.

Lord Muruga (Subramanya)

Worship of Subramanya (or Shiva Kumar, the son of Lord Shiva) was in fact one of the formal religious sects recognized and sanctified by Shri Shankaracharya and this sect was known as Koumaram. As Shri Sankaracharya hails from Kerala, it is quite obvious that he was quite familiar with the tradition of worship of Muruga, existing all along in the Hindu culture of the south.

The myriod Tamil names of Murugan

The word Murugan means one who is handsome. In India, naming children with popular names of God is very widely practiced. The name Murugan and his numerous other names like Murugaiyan,  SivamuruganVelmurugan, Saravanan, Karthigeyan, Senthil, Arumugam, Subramaniyan, Subbaiah, Subbarayan, Swaminathan, Velan, Kadirvel, Shaktivel, Kandan (Skandan), Kandaswamy, Kadamban, Kumar, Kumaraswamy, Shivakumar, Shanmukham, Palani (it is actually the name of one of his abodes), Palaniswamy, Muthu Kumaran, Sakthi Kumar, Muthukumaraswamy, Dandapani, Dandayutapani etc are widely used in naming children; a vast majority in the above names are quite typical to Tamils.

The birth of Murugan

Murugan is actually Subramanya, the son of lord Shiva. According to mythology, Murugan was born out of the fire that emanated from Lord Shiva’s third eye — his eye at the middle of his forehead, when he opened it to burn Manmata (a lord of love and romance) who tried to disturb Shiva’s meditation and turn his mind towards romance. The very purpose of birth of Muruga was to annihilate the two demons Tarakasura and Surapadma. Elaborate details of this mythology can be obtained from “Skanda Puranam”. The tamil poetic version of this mythology is also available, known as “Kanda Puranam” written by the poet Kacchiappa Sivachariyar (1350-1420).

Murugan with his consorts — Valli at the left and Devayani at the right.

Murugan’s vehicle is peacock and his main weapon to destroy his enemies is “Vel” (lance). His army flag (“kodi“) carries the symbol of rooster (“seval“) and on account of it, he is also known as “Seval Kodiyon“. According to mythology, Lord Murugan is married to two wives,Devayani (daughter of Indra, the king of Devas) and Valli. Valli reportedly belongs to a Tamil tribal community.

Bhagwan Ramana maharshi, of Tiruvannamalai is a Gnyani par excellence. As a gyani, though he does not encourage ideas about avatars, some of his devotees consider him an avatar of Lord Muruga.

Murugan and Gyana (Supreme Knowledge)

Realizing the highest truth of the Atman (and its oneness with the Brahman) is called gnyana (true knowledge) in Hinduism. Attaining this knowledge is also known as the opening of the “third eye” in a person. Lord Murugan, who was born on account of the opening of the third eye of Lord Shiva is a knower of the supreme truth and is therefore referred to as “Gyana Panditan” (An exponent of Supreme knowledge).

The holy Hindu syllable “Om” is said to encapsulate the Supreme knowledge; one who knows the profoundest meaning of Om is indeed a Gyani who knows the Supreme Truth. According to mythology, Murugan, even as a little boy was aware the meaning of Om.

Once lord Brahma, the creator of the Universe, out of egotism, failed to show due respect to Lord Murugan, who was then a little boy. Murugan cornered Lord Brahma to expound the meaning of Om

Little Lord Muruga teaching secret of Omkara to Lord Shiva

to him and the later could not do it. Murugan imprisoned him citing his incompetence.


Lord Shiva who came to the rescue of Brahma, questioned his little son’s authority to imprison the God of creation; he wondered whether Murugan knew anything about Om. Murugan, the little master was bold enough to tease his father that if Lord Shiva too didn’t know the meaning of Om, he could very well learn from him, provided he came to him very politely, like an earnest disciple who wants to learn from his master.

Lord Shiva agreed at once. Like an obedient student, he sat low in front of his son, with one hand close to his chest and the other hand closing his mouth (this is a traditional way of showing respect to Guru and Saints). Murugan then expounded the secret behind Om secretly in the ears of Lord Shiva.

Since Murugan thus became a saint who taught to the very lord of the universe, he was called Swaminathan. In Tamil, he is hailed as “Thagappan Sami” – one who became a Guru to his own father.

Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi – Some devotees consider him an avatar of Lord Muruga

Ramana Maharishi, of Tiruvannamalai, a very famous Gyani par excellence, is considered by his ardent devotees to be an incarnation of Lord Muruga. Though he has not written any hymns about Muruga, his cryptic poems are a source of treasure which contains the essence of his philosophical teachings.

The 6 great abodes of Murugan in Tamil Nadu

A very famous temple of Swaminathan (i.e. Murugan), situated at Swamimalai(near Kumbakonam at Tamil Nadu, India) is associated with the above mythological story. Swamimalai, is incidentally one of the “Arupadai Veedu“s (6 great abodes of Lord Murugan, situated in Tamil nadu).

The other 5 “padai veedu”s are : Thiruttani, Palani, PazhamudirSolai, Thirupparankundram and Thiruchendur. “Thirumurugatruppadai” is a famous and ancient Tamil literature written by poet Nakkirar which contains the stories of the wondrous divine play of Lord Murugan in all these 6 main abodes.





Tiruchendur – situated near sea shore.







Tamil hymns in praise of Murugan

Several Tamil saints have had the divine vision of Lord Muruga. A couple of them have been initiated to writing poetry by the lord himself. “Thiruppugazh” by the saint Arunagirinathar is a wonderful piece of Tamil poetry containing poems pregnant with devotion on Muruga and they overflow with beauty, rhyme and rhythm. Kumaragurupara Swamigal is another poet, who’s “Kandar Kali Venba” and “Muthukumaraswami Pillai Thamizh” are wonderful pieces of devotion and literary content. “Kanda sashti Kavacham” is another very popular hymn known to most of the devotees of Muruga, written by by Devaraya Swamigal.

“Muththaiththiru” Lord Muruga gave this word and Arunagiriyar started singing…

Auspicious days for worship of lord Murugan

Murugan is worshiped by Tamils at many occasions specially considered conducive to his worship right through a year. “Thaipusam” is one important festival, celebrated in the Tamil month “Thai” (January-February). The significance of the day is that it was on this occasion he was given a “Vel” (lance) by his mother Parvati to destroy the demons (Surapadma and Tarakasura).

“Skanda Shashti” is another auspicious period of six days coming in the Tamil Month “Aippasi” (October-November). This period is spent doing fast and prayer on Muruga. “Vaikasi Visakam” or the full moon of the Tamil month of Vaikasi (May-June) is Murugan’s birthday.

Tamils and Murugan – a global phenomenon

Across the globe, wherever Tamil community is settled in large numbers, temples have come up for worship of Lord Muruga. In Srilanka, The Kadirkama Skanda temple in Kadirkamam and the Nallur Kandaswamy temple in Jaffna are very famous. So also are the Murugan Temple at Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur (Malasia), Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road, Singapore, Highgate Hill Murugan temple at United Kingdom and the Sydney Murugan temple in Parramatta (Mays Hill)at Australia.

Kathirkamam Skanda temple, Srilanka


Nallur Kandasamy temple, Jaffna, Srilanka.


Murugan Temple, Batu caves, near Kualalampur, Malasia.


Highgate Murugan temple, London


Sri Thendayutapani Temple, Singapore


Sydney Murugan Temple, Australia



The significance of God’s names in Hinduism – Mantra Japa & Japa Sadhana

“One should constantly repeat the name of God. The name of God is highly effective in the Kaliyuga. The practice of yoga is not possible in this age, for the life of a man depends on food. Clap your hands while repeating God’s name, and the birds of your sins will fly away.”

– Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Unlike Christianity and Islam, Hinduism encourages worshiping God with name and form. Though God is one, he is amenable for worship in numerous names and forms in Hinduism. God’s form and name — both are holy to Hindus.

Hinduism thus has placed a great emphasis on the name of the God; The names of Divine Avatars (God in human form) too are no other than God’s names. Thus Rama, Krishna, Narasimha, Ramakrishna, Ramana et al are divine names for the respective believers. Thus, from a true Hindu point of view, “Jesus” and “Mohammed” (who are treated as Avatars by Saints like Sri Ramakrishna) are also God’s names and those who have faith in them and chant them should get purity and elevation.

“God and his holy name are one and the same” declares Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. A hard core gnyani like Ramana Maharishi too corroborates such a statement. Uttering or repeating (doing japa) of any of God’s innumerable names  is one of the recommended paths of sadhana (religious practice) for aspirants in the Path of bhakthi (devotion to God). Any name of God, added with a seed syllable like “Om” at the front and a “Namaha” at the end, when sanctified by divine sages and passed on to others by him or his qualified disciples, becomes a holy Mantra and the mantra carries a subtle power to purify the one who chants it; It gradually elevates the person to a higher spiritual level.

Swamy Sivananda: “Just as fire has the natural property of burning things, so also the Name of God has the power of burning sins and desires…”

Swamy Sivananda says: “The glory of the Name of God cannot be established through reasoning. It can certainly be experienced through faith, devotion and constant repetition. Have reverence and faith for the Name. Do not argue. Every Name is filled with countless powers. Just as fire has the natural property of burning things, so also the Name of God has the power of burning sins and desires. The power of the Name is ineffable. Its Glory is indescribable. The efficacy and inherent Sakti of the Name of God is unfathomable.”

Here are some popular Hindu mantras that carry God’s holy names:

Om Namo Narayana

Om Nama Shivaya

Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

Om Saravanabava

Ram Krishna Hari

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama  Rama Hare Hare

Om Ramaya Namaha

Om Namo bhagavate Ramakrishnaya

Sri Ram Jayaram jaya jaya Ram


Developing a taste for Gods’ name develops love on God; Great religious masters do not prescribe any need for personal purity to chant God’s name. Mata Amritanandamayi says God’s name can be repeated even while sitting in the toilet. Repetition of God’s name added with music — the Nama sankirtan has benefits added multifold. There are several Hindu saints and seers who emphasize Nama sankirtan as the be all and end all of devotion to God.

In Hinduism, a very widespread practice followed is to name people predominantly in God’s name. Even though naming children with short, sweet and novel-sounding names is getting widely prevalent now a days, in south, a grandmotheror an elder in the family will ensure that at the timing of naming ceremony, the child is named with at least one of God’s name- preferably a name associated with the family deity.

By calling out your child as Rama or Krishna, Sita, Parvati and so on, you have the opportunity to utter God’s name unknowingly, numerous times in a day. The belief is that whether you call out a God’s name knowingly or unknowingly, you accrue some benefit. According to Hindu mythology, the demon King Hiranya, father of Prahlad, kept uttering and thinking of Narayana with utter contempt but he gained Moksha (liberation) by getting killed in the hands of Lord Narayana who took the avatar of Narasimha.

Vaishanvas (worshipers of Lord Vishnu) never get tired of quoting the story of Ajamila, a hopeless sinner who at his death-bed called out his son Narayana and breathed his last. By virtue of uttering Narayana’s name, he was absolved of his sins and he attained a higher birth. It is quite common to see elderly people uttering “Narayana”, “Govinda” etc while sitting down of standing up or while engaging in any form of physical exertion.

Hinduism does not restrict even naming of inanimate things with the name of God. In olden days in Tamil Nadu (South India)children of poor and middle class families used to play with “marapachchi“, a wooden doll very crudely shaped in human form. Children used to name them with their favourite Gods, dress them with pieces of cloth, treat them as their Gods and play festivals as done in the temples. Thus Hinduism revolved around inculcating Bhakthi and a taste for God’s name right from childhood.

Chanting God’s name and Mantra Diksha

One can take any name of God that is appealing to him and start chanting it. One can also take up any of the above listed mantras and start doing japa at one’s own convenience. Based on his devotion, sincerity and concentration, one definitely acquires spiritual benefits on account of the practice.

But, better still is the practice of getting formally initiated to chanting God’s name from a qualified and empowered spiritual Guru. If the Guru happens to be an Avatara purusha, a jivan mukta (one who attained liberty while being alive) or a Satguru (a guru who has attained spiritual enlightenment) the benefits are multifold. Getting God’s name formally from a Guru is known as Mantra Diksha (initiation).

Mata Amritanandamayi says that when a Satguru gives Mantra Diksha, he is transferring a portion of his prana (vital force) along with the Mantra to the disciple. This way, a very potent seed is sown in the heart of the disciple and this vital force helps the disciple to accrue the benefits of chanting the mantra faster and stronger.

While there is no secrecy associated with God’s name, it is not the case when a formal Mantra Diksha is given. A satguru knows which Mantra is suitable for the taste, temperament and spiritual inclination of the disciple. What is best suited to “A” need not work well for “B”. Hence, it is normally the practice in Hinduism that a disciple should not reveal his mantra to any third person. Matras formally obtained through diksha are to be chanted silently. The Guru may also recommend certain pre-requisites for chanting the mantra (like recommended time for chanting, minimum number of chantings to be made in a day, external purity guidelines before chanting mantra etc).

Papa Ramadas (Anandashramam) – Here is a standing example of a self-realized master, who attained his goal purely by chanting Rama Mantra (‘Om Sri Ram Jaya Ram Jaya Jaya Ram’)

Getting God’s vision

It is said that when a person takes to God’s name in all sincerity, pumps in his heart and soul with total devotion and chants his God’s name untiringly is blessed with the vision of his personal God at the appropriate time. Countless Hindu saints cutting across the numerous sects and sub-sects of Hinduism have had vision of their respective personal Gods.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a very distinguished and unconventional Hindu saint is a sterling example of this phenomenon. His personal God is Kali, the Universal Divine Mother and he had had numerous glorious visions of her. He assiduously followed numerous other sects of Hinduism and practiced spirituality in all paths he came across. He had had divine vision of Rama, Krishna, Radha, Sita, Gouranga and many such divine forms. He practiced Christianity and Islam for a while and had the vision of Jesus Christ and prophet Mohammed too. Negating the form aspect of God, he practiced non-dualistic path of realizing God as Brahman or Atman, the beginning-less and endless entity, the one without second, the one transcending all name and form. He was immersed in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, a meditative state where he had absolved all “I” consciousness and remained blissfully dissolved in the ocean of Brahman.

While acknowledging the importance of God’s name and form at one end, Hinduism at its other extreme end, has the boldness to accept by way of personal verification, that any God form had in vision is at the best a product of mind of the individual who had the vision, though such a mind is the purest of all. Hindu gnyanis (knowers of the ultimate reality) like Ramana Maharishi declare by personal experience that the seer, the seeing and the seen are nothing but one single entity, and knowing THAT is the ultimate truth to be grasped in spirituality.


Swami Sivananda’s practical guide to doing Japa Sadhana

Swami Sivananda writes: ” I have given below a number of practical hints of great use for your daily Sadhana. Kindly note and follow them carefully.

1. Fixed hours: Most effective time for Japa is early dawn Brahmamuhurta and dusk, when Sattva is predominant. Regularity in Japa is very essential.

2. Definite place: It is highly advantageous to sit in the same place every day. Do not change it now and then. When you sit there you will have automatically the mood to do Japa. Just as you have a mood to study books when you enter a library or pray when you enter a temple so also you will get the mood to do Japa when you sit in your usual Asana.

3. A steady pose: A comfortable Asana helps to make the mind steady also, controls Rajas and aids concentration. Concentration cannot be acquired by one whose pose is not steady. Keep the Merudand (spine) always erect. If you droop down like an old man while sitting for Japa and meditation your mind will always waver and wander. Have a steady pose all throughout the period of Japa.

4. Face North or East: This exercises a subtle influence and enhances the efficacy of Japa. Sages and Rishis of the Himalayas help those who sit facing North for Japa because they come in contact with them by facing North.

5. A Seat: Deer skin or Kusha-mat or a rug should be used. The Gita says ‘Chailajinakusottaram.’ Have a Kusa mat, a deer-skin over that and a clean white cloth above. This is the seat prescribed by the Gita. Energy is conserved which is otherwise dissipated without a proper seat.

6. Repeat elevating prayers: Invoking the aid of the Ishtam with appropriate prayer induces a proper Sattvic Bhava. In all spiritual Sadhana divine help is prerequisite. Without it no spiritual progress can be attained and control of the wandering, mischievous mind becomes impossible.

7. Clear articulation: Start the Japa pronouncing the Mantra distinctly and without mistakes. Mantra Sakti is quickly awakened, mind is easily elevated and made one-pointed if the pronunciation is clear and distinct.

8. Vigilance and alertness: This is very important. You will be fresh and alert when you commence. After a time unconsciously the mind becomes weary, begins to wander and drowsiness overpowers you. Avoid this state. Some sleep during Japa and meditation and imagine to have attained spiritual bliss. This is mere hallucination.

9. Japa Mala: Using a Mala helps alertness and acts as an incentive to carry on the Japa continuously. Resolve to finish a certain number of Malas before leaving the seat. The mind will deceive you if you do Japa without a Mala. You will imagine that you have done Japa for a long time and that you have done more than the required number.

10. Variety in Japa: This is necessary to sustain interest, avoid fatigue and counteract monotony. Repeat aloud for a time, then hum the Mantra and repeat mentally sometimes. When the real bliss or taste for Japa is acquired then Japa becomes habitual and pleasant. There will be no monotony at all. The variety of Japa is for beginners only. Mental Japa is the most powerful. It directly counteracts the evil Vrittis of the mind and makes the mind pure.

11. Meditation: Side by side with Japa think of the Lord as present before you and picture His entrancing beautiful form. This practice adds tremendously to the efficacy and power of your Sadhana. The mind is fully engrossed in the form of the Lord by this practice and there is no chance for the mind to get hold of the objects of senses which are like straw or chaff before the bliss of the presence of God.

12. Concluding prayer and rest: This is important. After Japa is over do not immediately leave the place, mix with everyone and plunge into worldly activity. Sit very quietly for about 10 minutes at least humming some prayer, remembering the Lord or reflecting upon His infinite love. Then after devout prostration leave the place and commence your work. Spiritual vibrations will be in tact. You will find it easy to remember the Lord even while at work. Combine prayer with your daily routine and occasionally remember Him.


Mahatma Gandhi, a saint who happened to be in politics. He had immense faith in the power of Ram Nam. (Name of Lord Rama).



Understanding the role and purpose of Guru in Hinduism

The word “guru” in general means a teacher in Sanskrit. In the generic sense any teacher, whether the one who teaches worldly knowledge or the one who teaches spiritual wisdom, is a guru. But normally, from the point of Hindu religion, a guru is one who teaches you spiritual knowledge, who initiates you into a spiritual path or who guides you along the path of a spiritual quest. A highly learned Guru with deep knowledge of the scriptures is also called an Acharya.

Great spiritual masters of Hinduism are of the firm opinion that the human birth is rare and the purpose of the human birth is to attain God or realize one’s atman, which are one and the same, viewed from two different perspectives.

This is the ultimate goal to be attained and it is varyingly termed as God realization, self-realization, attaining the knowledge of Brahman, attaining birthlessness/deathlessness (“Moksha” “Mukthi” “samadhi” “nirvana” “sakshatkar,” etc. in Sanskrit).

Hinduism emphatically states that a guru is a must for learning and experiencing spirituals truths.

The following points will help you to understand the role of a guru in Hinduism.

“Satguru” – The guru of the highest order

Purely from the spiritual point of view, worldly knowledge is considered a lower level of knowledge and even such a “lower” knowledge requires teachers to make students comprehend the subjects clearly. Obviously, the ultimate spiritual knowledge, which is the very goal of life to be attained, requires qualified spiritual masters to teach and guide the earnest spiritual seekers.

Ideally, only a God-realized (or self-realized) soul, who is truly a knower by personal experience, could be the perfect guru. Such a guru is called a “Satguru.” A Satguru is none other than God himself descended in human form or a human who has attained the highest level of spiritual knowledge – who has “obtained” the divine authority to transmit his knowledge to the earnest seekers who surrender to him. According to Sri Ramakrishna, a great religious master, a Satguru is like a huge steamer that can safely carry a lot of people across a turbulent river.

Hinduism advocates the concept of “Avatar” – God descending to earth in human form from time to time to establish righteousness in the world, to satisfy the longing of earnest worshipers and to provide appropriate spiritual guidance to people in a way most suited to the period and circumstances of the descent.

The Avatar and his immediate and handpicked lieutenants who fully imbibe his teachings, who are empowered to carry forward his teachings function as Satgurus. However, it need not be interpreted to mean that Satgurus are always associated with the arrival of avatars.

Multiple gurus may also guide at different levels

But practically, not all spiritual seekers are really keen enough to reach the ultimate goal or fit enough to reach it. But spiritual attainment being the goal of human life, people at different levels of spiritual inclination have to be guided to the path at varying degrees of “capacity of intake” and “capacity of assimilation.”

Reincarnation (rebirth after death) is one of the fundamental concepts of faith in Hinduism. Accordingly, Hinduism recognizes that it may take several births for a seeker to attain the ultimate goal. Bhagavat Gita, one of the greatest books of essential Hindu spiritual knowledge recognizes this fact by stating that hardly one in a thousand strives to attain the highest and even among such earnest seekers, hardly a few are capable of reaching the goal.

It also leads to the fact that availability of Satgurus at all points of time and at all approachable geographic locations may not be practical. Naturally, people need to be guided by “less than perfect” masters who are quite good enough to guide the majority.

Hinduism is a very vast religion with scope for worshiping innumerable God-forms (who represent the ONE ultimate truth). There exist several major schools of philosophies, several sects and sub-sects that are suited to various tastes, traditions and preferences of religious followers. This naturally leads to a multifaceted system of availability of gurus.

The best starting point for seeking the guidance of a guru is to follow the culture and tradition of the family and in Hinduism, the traditional “family guru” serves this purpose. Generally, a “family guru” is a guru, most normally (but not too strictly) a “Sanyasi” (a monk who has relinquished worldly life) who comes in the Master-disciple lineage of a Satguru or a great spiritual master of yesteryears. These gurus are adept in the particular God they worship and the particular school of philosophy they profess. They initiate the seeker in the worship of the specific “personal God” of their sect and guide him in the fundamentals of religious disciplines to follow.

To avoid distraction and to ensure a better focus for an orderly religious progress, it is normally recommended that the seeker remains steadfast in his trust towards his guru, to the chosen personal God and to the school of philosophy he is instructed about.

But for a more curious and capable seeker, such guidelines are not too binding. Hinduism allows the freedom for one to choose his guru based on his temperament, taste and inclination. Hinduism also permits an earnest seeker to seek “higher guidance” from more than one guru based on his true progress. All the same, it is also emphasized that one should not be running behind one guru after another just because of one’s egotism that refuses to surrender to any form of discipline.

While it is important that one remains ever-devoted to his main guru, one can approach other gurus (called ‘upa gurus’ – i.e. supportive gurus) with due reverence and get specific guidance in some specific techniques of spiritual practice, to learn about alternative schools of philosophies or religious scriptures, to get doubts clarified and get advice on any hurdles faced in the path of progress.

At an exalted level, for the most avid seeker, even animals, birds and inanimate objects can teach a lesson or two in his spiritual quest (which he grasps by keen observation) and all of them are virtually his upa-gurus.

Faith and surrender to the guru are essential

Surrendering unquestioningly to one guru and attaining progress based on this very surrender and trust – this is on one side. Questioning and evaluating a guru and then surrendering to him and, at the same time, providing room for the guru to evaluate him so as to accept or reject him – this is on another side. Both are acceptable in Hinduism.

However, where the disciple is lucky enough (or destined) to end up or surrender at the feet of a Satguru, the Satguru, who transcends names, forms and schools of philosophies, will guide the disciple to the most appropriate “personal god” and school of philosophy best suited to him. What the disciple needs to do afterwards is to surrender his ego at the feet of his guru and remain steadfast in his faith, goal and commitment. It is also said that, in reality, it is the guru who seeks and gets the disciple. An earnest seeker may ultimately end up with a Satguru, though he may have had his initiation earlier from another guru.

Understanding initiation (“Diksha”) by a guru

Getting initiation (“Diksha”) from the guru is an essential element of the guru-disciple relationship. In general, “Diksha” is done by the guru by giving a mantra (a sacred phrase containing the name of a specific God beginning with “seed sounds” like “Om” and ending with “namah”). Gurus of a specific sect give a mantra suited to the specific sect.

For example, worshipers of Lord Shiva generally give a mantra associated with Lord Shiva. A worshiper of Vishnu will normally get initiated with Narayana mantra (or Krishna / Rama mantras).

Even though we are familiar with several mantras like Om Namah Shivaya or Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya etc, Mantras are normally communicated in secrecy by the Guru to the disciple. A disciple is expected to keep his mantra a secret and not to reveal it to any other person.

According to Satguru Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), a sadguru while initiating a disciple with a mantra, transmits a little of his Prana shakti (vital force). It is like adding a little butter milk to milk to create curd. Chanting of mantra subsequently by the disciple is like churning the curd to obtain butter (realizing God).

A mantra is like a seed sown by the guru into the disciple. It is up to the disciple to nurture the seed to get the sapling, water it and protect it as it grows to a tree till it bears fruits. Likewise, it is the sacred duty of the disciple to repeat the mantra with devotion as many times as possible, follow the disciplines and practices specified by the guru, meditate on the God of the mantra and reap the spiritual benefits.

As for Satgurus, their way of initiation (by giving ‘diksha’ to someone) may take place in several forms. A Satguru is capable of gauging the spiritual capacity, taste and capability of a person and make an initiation best suited to the person. The initiation could be done by a Satguru by a mere touch of hand (“Hasta Diksha”); he may give the mantra in the disciple’s dreams (“Swapna Diksha”); he may initiate the disciple by a mere eye-to-eye contact (“Nayana Diksha”); he may initiate by an embrace (“Alingana Diksha”).

A Satguru is capable of judging which God form is best suited or best liked by the disciple and initiate him with the mantra of that God. He may initiate the disciple in worship of God with form or without form; he may simply initiate a capable follower in the path of self-inquiry.

A Satguru bears the burden of a disciple

Unlike a guru whose responsibility ends with initiating the disciple in the religious path, a Satguru bears the responsibility of the disciple who surrenders to him wholeheartedly. It is said that at the time of giving Diksha, a Satguru transmits a small portion of his vital energy (“Prana”) into the disciple. It is also said that the Satguru absorbs the accumulated karmas (good and bad effects of the disciples’ actions in the past) and makes him a “clean slate” to start his religious quest with full vigor. While the need for “self-effort” to be done by the disciple to attain the ultimate goal can’t be wished away, the Satguru makes the path much easier for the disciple to tread, by removing the obstacles coming out of his past deeds.

It is also said that a Satguru never forsakes his disciple, even if he tends to slacken his spiritual efforts or gets distracted away from his ideal; Satguru’s watchful eyes are always on him to goad him back to his track at the appropriate time.

The guidance from the “inner Guru”

Any religious discipline done by an earnest seeker is to realize God or Atman or Brahman who essentially dwells in the heart of every being. In the point of view of “Gyana marga” (path of Knowledge in Hinduism), everyone is essentially God and what the guru does is to remove the false coverings and sheaths that make one wrongly identify oneself with the body, mind intellect, etc. and ultimately to make one understand “you are that” (“Tatwamasi”).

It may not be practical for everyone to be physically with the guru always, take regular instructions from him and keep getting doubts cleared. It is said that an earnest disciple who lives away from a guru/Satguru, depending on his steadfastness and sincerity in his spiritual efforts, gets his guidance and course-correction right from his inner heart/sub-conscience. This inner voice or guidance is called the Inner Guru (“Anthra Guru”).

Sri Ramana Maharishi, the great sage of Tiruvennamalai used to say that the external guru pushes the disciple’s mental leanings (which tend to wander outwards) towards inside and the Indwelling Guru drags them inwards. It is ultimately the one and the same “Sachidananda” (Existence-knowledge-bliss i.e. Godliness) that works through both as the external guru and the internal guru.

What Swami Sivananda says about the need of a Guru

(Source: Autobiography of Swami Sivananda)

“The spiritual path is beset with many obstacles. The Guru will guide the aspirants safely and remove all sorts of difficulties they have to face. He will inspire the students and give them spiritual powers through his blessings. Guru, Isvara, Truth and Mantra are one. There is no other way of overcoming the vicious worldly Samskaras of the passionate nature of raw, worldly-minded persons than personal contact with and service to the Guru.

A personal Guru is necessary in the beginning. He alone can show you the path to attain God, who is the Guru of Gurus, and obviate the snares and pitfalls on your path. Guru’s Grace is needed by the disciple. This does not mean that the disciple should sit idle and expect a miracle from the Guru to push him directly into Samadhi. The Guru cannot do Sadhana for the student. It is foolish to expect spiritual attainments from a drop of Kamandalu water from the Guru. The Guru can guide the student, clear his doubts, pave the way, remove the snares, pitfalls and obstacles and throw light on the path. But it is the disciple himself who has to walk every step in the spiritual path.”