In Quest of Summit – Climbing to the peak of the Arunachala Hill

This desire had originally sprouted when I visited and stayed at Ramanashramam last year. To day (19th February 2006) as I was sitting under the cool shades of the trees and enjoying the divinely peace at Skandashramam on the Arunachala hill, the desire intensified and stayed centered at my heart! I wanted to scale up the Arunachala hill and see the top where the traditional ‘Annamalai Deepam’ is lit once a year in November/ December.

At this age of 49, quite accustomed to a sedentary city life with little physical exertion ever to cope with, the question whether I am fit enough to aspire for such a fete was looming large at another nook of my heart. But the desire refused to budge. ‘I am getting older by the day; The physical stamina is proportionately waning; If not today, when?’

I have already heard that for novices like me, a tread up the hill is no cake walk; a Guide to take you along safely to the summit is a must. Rangasamy, a casual laborer at Skandasramam, had eyed on me a couple of times and saluted me with a sense of anticipation since morning. I called him and started querying him on the subject. He must be in his mid fifties but looked strong and healthy so typical of a simple villager.

“It is one my regular jobs, Sir. I have taken countless ‘White men’ to the top. Don’t worry, Sir, I have taken people much older than you, why, even blind people up there and brought them back safely. Whatever you pay with satisfaction, I will accept it, Sir”. I took a decision to trust him and go ahead, though there was a worry at the back of my mind whether Rangasamy, upon our successful return, would demand and accept his payment, only if made in Dollars!

Taking due notice of my all-white hair and an older-than-the-actual-age look, Rangasami gave me a hand-made walking stick and assured me that its utility is equivalent to having a third leg. We filled up 2 bottles with the natural spring water available at Skandasramam and started our journey at 2:45 PM. “If you ensure a brisk walking, I will bring you safely back to foot hills before dusk”, assured Rangasamy.

Assured to be the ‘Gross physical Body of Lord Shiva’ by none other than Bhagawan Sri Ramana, we walked up over this holy body in quest of the head which ‘Lord Bramha himself failed to see’. With no man-made steps to climb, but following only a trail of naturally formed small rocks on which people had been walking up and down from time immemorial, we climbed up the hill slowly. En route, there were very huge sloping rocks. Trekking over them definitely required expert guidance and a helping hand from Rangasamy. A ten minute of continuous climb was just enough for my lungs to pump air in and out like a steam engine and my heart leapt up from its safe abode to reach my throat! Seeing my status, Rangasamy said with care “Just sit for a while on that rock; gulp down some water”.

Rangasamy was full of expert advice as we walked up. “Catch hold of the big rocks at the sides and walk close to it. Never go to the edge at the open side of the slope; avoid seeing slope down below – you will get scared; always look ahead; Don’t put your foot on the loose sands, lest you slip; always walk over the firm stones. Climb up in small steps or else your knee joints will start paining too soon. I am taking you by a path which slopes up gradually. Look! There is another path over there which is too steep for the inexperienced like you…”

As I rested over small rocks at regular intervals, the sight of the Annamalaiyar Temple down below and the Thiruvannamalai township was a feast to the eyes. As we progressed, the blaring horns and purring noise of vehicles from the town was gradually waning.

After an hour of climbing, we reached a cave. Rangasamy informed me that until lately a Sadhu by name ‘Narayana Sami’ was staying there almost permanently. Many devotees of him, including Rangasamy used to serve him by bringing him bare minimum essentials from the town. Rangasamy showed me broken Rocks that he personally arranged in the form of a makeshift wall near the entrance of the cave to protect the Sadhu from rains; “I did so much for him; but he left the place without even informing me, Sir” lamented Rangasami.

We climbed up further and reached a landmark known as “Ezhu sunai” (Seven springs). I felt curious to look around the place as the name of this place finds reference on and off in the history of Bhagawan Ramana. There were small pools of water at 7 places in this rocky terrain.

Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi at Annamalai hill

It is here that Bhagawan and his associates, in one of their uphill trekking, planned to cook their meals and relax a while; They had brought all the essentials like Cereals, pulses, vegetables and utensils, but forgot to bring a match box to make fire! Bhagawan’s associates tried all means that men of ancient civilization used to whip up fire, but failed miserably! While they waited to get a match box by sending message through the wood-cutters who were going down hills, Bhagawan Ramana, sitting comfortably at this place, took the opportunity to explain to them the second sloka from Sri Sankara’s ‘Atma Bhotam’ which was quite fitting to the situation. The meaning of the Sloka ran like this: “Just as no cooking is possible without fire even if all other ingredients are present, self-realisation is not possible without Gyana (True knowledge) despite undergoing all austerities”.

Just a few yards ahead, there was another cave, whose entrance was too narrow – just enough to squeeze you in if you moved your body sideways. Inside, it was cool and soothing, spacious enough for 4 to 5 people to lie down. Rangasamy asked me to relax comfortably for a while and he hid himself from my eyesight to enjoy a puff off his Beedi. After a while, he emerged into the cave and proffered a few leaves for me to eat. With hesitation, I put them in my mouth and munched; It was a surprise – it tasted sweet! Rangasamy said that its name was ‘chakkara Vilvam’ (Sweet Bilwa).

I was by this time quite tired and was looking like a balloon devoid of gas! Rangasamy taking due note of my not-so-impressive-stamina, sounded a timely warning. “Sir, we are hardly half way up vertically. The remaining climb is going to be steeper and tougher. We are already behind schedule and if we proceed at this rate, we may not be able to return to foot hills before dusk. If you wish, we can abort our journey here and trek back downwards. If you still want to proceed to the top, well, I have no problem”.

I was indeed in a dilemma now. The weakling in me who had been silent so far, started voicing his concern now. He wanted to call it quits. The adventurous second-half in my personality wanted to go up, come what may. After remaining confused over these two conflicting inner voices, I felt I should put the responsibility on Lord Shiva’s shoulders and move up to complete the journey. I didn’t have the physical stamina on my own capacity. As I write this piece now, I comprehend quite unshakably that it was not on my personal physical capacity that I walked up the hills over the remaining height. Unlike the earlier part of the journey, I do not cleary remember any in-between stages of the journey nor the passage of time till we reached near the top.

Near about 5 PM, we reached close to the peak. “Well done Sir, you have somehow managed” was the word of encouragement from Rangasamy. The bark of a dog greeted us. There were 2 village-folks sitting close to the peak near a makeshift tent along with a dog. Perhaps, they were self-appointed ‘priests’ intent on making some quick bucks out of the stray visitors, I thought.

We removed the footwear and climbed up the last few steps up the huge rock at the top. The smell of putrid ghee filled my nostrils. The rock formation at the top was somewhat flat with curved slops and undulations covering radius of about 20 feet, with a solitary piece jutting out as the summit- about 10 feet by 10 feet and waist high. All the area around was char black in color, with oily coating caused by the splattering of ghee and soot produced by the ‘Dheepam’ that had been lit some two months ago.

Karthigai Deepam ignited

Rangasamy pointed out 4 steel bolts fitted permanently at the peak, and said, “This is the holy rock on which the huge “Kopparai” (Lamp bowl) will be fitted using these bolts and the ‘Dheepam’ lit”. It was the moment of reverence and a subdued ecstasy. Voicing aloud ‘Om Namasivaya’, I craned down my neck and placed my forehead on the rock. There was a surge of inexplicable emotion in my heart – a mixture of peace, devotion and bliss as I remained in that pose for a minute of so, with heavy breathing that continued unabatedly owing to the strain of the ascend.

Every year the huge lamp bowl, about 6 to 8 feet in diameter and about 6 feet tall is brought from the Annamalaiyar Temple by a group of about 10 persons, experienced in the task of tactfully roping and carrying them along the same arduous path. It is then filled with hundreds of litres of ghee. A long Cloth, about 15 to 20 feet is coiled to form the wick and is submerged in the ghee. The tip of the wick is generously loaded with camphor. On the day of Dheepam festival, at the auspicious time of 6:00 PM when the Utsava of Artanaariswara is brought out from the Temple at the foot hills and the huge lamp near the Dhwajasthamba is lit, the Grand Dheepam over here is lit immediately.

I looked all around. Being the summit, places to a distance of even 20 to 30 km all around were visible clearly. I was told that on the auspicious day of Kartigai Dheepam, it is the practice of many devotees who are within this range of visibility to have their first meal of the day only after seeing the holy light of the Dheepam atop the hill. Hundreds of adventurous devotees who have verve and vigor use to climb the hill and position themselves at vantage points to have a closer darshan of the Lamp lighting Ceremony. Rangasamy informed me that he normally utilizes the opportunity to set up a small Kiosk closer to the hill top to sell fruits flowers and camphor to such devotees and make some quick buck off the occasion.

Arunachala – Hill top – 2670 ft from sea level. The ‘Annamalaiyar padam’ chiseled on the rock.

Some 12 feet away from this ‘lamp’ rock, there was an image of ‘The holy feet of Annaamalaiyar’ chiseled on the flat rock. Rangasamy held my hand took me there over the slippery rock. For the benefit of the stray visitors like me, a sack had been spread near the image of the holy feet. I prostrated myself there on the sack, placed my head over the Annamalayar Paadam and chanted the lord’s name. There was again a feeling of emotional surge- a mixture of peace, devotion and bliss. I felt as though my mind stopped working for a moment. I remained prostrate there for a minute or so, with heavy breathing still continuing to rule over my body.

I rose up to stand. The physical weakness caused my feet to stumble and Rangasamy stabilized me by gripping my hand. I felt more relaxed now to look around – the path of the ‘Girivalam’, Adi-Annamalayar temple at the other side of the foot hills, Parvata Malai (another famous hill away from here) and the ‘Javvadhu Malai’ still beyond. The path of Girivalam (Circumambulation of the hill) looked too long and winding and it made me wonder whether it was the one which I walked around a couple of days back.

We climbed down from the top rock and put on our fotwear. The two youngsters sitting near the Tarpaulin tent with the dog looked at us eagerly. Rangasamy asked them to serve me a cup of ‘herbal water’. One of them went into the tent and came back with a pot and a coconut shell. He poured a dull colored water into the shell and asked me to drink. With my usual hesitation and a worry about a possible amoebic infection, I drank a cup of the drink. It was salted lemon water and it its taste was great and very refreshing to my parched throat. I took and gulped a couple of more cups of the liquid and paid them some money.

It was now time to begin our descent. The two folks advised Rangasamy to take me by the ‘shorter route’ as the time was not sufficient to reach down hill before dusk if we were to go by the same route by which we ascended.

The ‘shorter route’ proved to be too steep and arduous to descend. It was now that the walking stick I brought proved its worth. The distance from one step to the next sometimes was too steep that I had to sit first and then slide down. The moment I sat, my knees proved to be too weak and wobbly to make me erect again! My knees creaked and groaned as we descended rather too fast to my own standards. I fumbled and stumbled at several places and Rangasamy was always there to extend a stabilizing hand. With stops over rocks to catch the breath and gulp down some water once in every ten minutes, and my body and mind becoming weaker by each step, we were descending robotically. After half an hour or so, the two youngsters who were at the top overtook us along with their dog and disappeared in no time. It was then I understood that my walk down hills was not all that swift as I had imagined it to be!

The very huge sloping rock that was closer to the Skandasramam came at last and Rangasamy held my hand firmly and took my down through zigzag treads on the rock and I followed him blindly with quivering legs. The sweet sound of the spring water that continuously fell over the rocks adjacent to Skandasramam could be heard now giving me the hope that the arduous journey was coming to an end after all.

As we settled at the Rocky steps near the entrance of Skandasramam, it was time to bid good bye to Rangasamy. It was already 6:45 PM and the twilight was diminishing rapidly. I paid Rangasamy an amount that seemed to be satisfactory to him and thanked him profusely for his care and consideration. While I had to walk alone now in the near darkness towards Ramanasramam (about 2 km to my right) Rangasamy bid goodbye and walked straight down towards the town.

With little to no energy left, I walked like an 80-year-old, striking my walking stick hard on the steps, producing enough sound to ward off stray animals and snakes, it at all any, en route.

The journey up and down, according to my mindset was more of a pilgrimage and not a trekking for the thrill of it. If it were so, I should have been uttering my Mantra (God’s Holy Name) all the while, keeping my mind at an elevated spiritual level. But what was the reality? How many times did I remember or utter God’s Holy name during my descent so far? Hardly ever! The mind, all along was thinking about my safety, pain, exertion, and the need to return in time with all limbs in tact!

With mixed feelings of guilt, a sense of humility coupled with the thrill of having completed a fete not so familiar to me , I walked my lonely journey towards Ramanasramam.



Understanding the Concept of Karma and Rebirth in Hinduism

The concepts of Karma and rebirth are two major pillars of Hindu philosophy. Buddhism and Jainism, the two other religions which have their origins in Hinduism too accept the concepts of Karma and rebirth.

What is Karma?

Karma means work or action. When you perform a work or action, it is bound to produce an effect, a reaction or a result. If you are the doer of karma with a desire, you are to own up the result or the fruit it produces. Whatever actions we did in our previous births, earlier in the present birth, are currently doing, are going to do later in this birth and also in future births are all Karmas. Karmas can be good, neutral or bad. Good karma will get you good effects and bad karma will get you bad consequences. This is the simplistic explanation of the law of Karma, but it is not really as simple as that!

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” — says the science. “Thou shall reap what thy sow” says the English proverb. These two statements are at the best only incomplete approximations to the law of Karma. Nevertheless, action and reaction constitute the first dimension of Karma.

Karma — inter-woven with time and God’s will

Karma and fruits of Karma are interwoven with a second dimension — Time and a third dimension — Divine will. This is the crux of the law of Karma of Hinduism. This fact is not well grasped by many.

What baffles and troubles many people in life is a commonly perceived reality that nice and honest people of good conduct and character seem to suffer more in life,whereas those not endowed with such qualities mostly seem to lead a happy-go-lucky life!

One can also observe in life that when you have really done a good job and expect a positive outcome, you may get something contrary to it. Also, when you have done some blasphemy and you expect a terrific consequence on account of it, you may perhaps go scot-free. Why is that so?

Karma is unpredictable

People who tend to analyze such occurrences many a time feel extremely bad about the divine law of justice, which seems to be distorted. They tend to feel, considering the happenings in this birth alone, that the proverb “thou shall reap what thy sow” does not seem to work justly.

Perhaps such a stark contradiction is one reason that made saints to analyze Karma and come out with the finding of its continuing effect birth after birth. That is how the second dimension of ‘Time’ comes in to recognition. Any out-of-the-way suffering or enjoyment that you get in this birth, which does not seem to have any seed sown in this birth, must have its origin in some previous births. This is the “Time” dimension of Karma.

At a macroscopic perspective, the entire creation, the living beings, their birth, sustenance and decay are within the overall divine play called Maya. As a divine play, it has all the elements of fun, suspense, unexpected twists and turns of a game, some basic rules and also some breaking and bending of the rules by the Umpire — the God himself!

Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) says “One can not know the truth about God through science. Science gives us information only about the things perceived through senses, as for instance, this material mixed with that material gives such and such a result, that material mixed with this material gives such and such result. A man cannot comprehend spiritual things with (this sort of) his ordinary intelligence”.

Avatara Purushas (God descended in human form) and mahatmas (great souls), who transcend all dualities of creation and establish themselves in Brahman (the all pervading God), are the ones who understand the play of Maya; they explain to us about the utter difficulty in bringing the ways of working of Karma to any predictable and comprehensible level.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa declares “To tell you the truth, this world is God’s Maya. And there are many confusing things in the realm of Maya. One can not comprehend them”. He further says, “One can by no means say that “this” will come after “that” or “this” will produce “that” “.

Thus any presumption that the law of Karma is infallible and rigid is not true. Any rigid suggestion that there shall be a good reward for the good Karma and a bad reward for the bad Karma and that the intensity of reward or punishment shall be directly proportional to the intensity of the Karma, is not entirely true. In other words, Karma is NOT self-propelling — this is what great Hindu saints declare.

Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), a Jnyani par excellence, in his Upadesa Undhiyar, says “Karma is just jata — non-sentient. The fruits of Karma are decided only by the will of the Creator (God). Can you ever think Karma as God? (You can’t)” This indeed the crucial the third dimension of Karma, namely, “God’s will”.

With all these three dimensions in place, we can comprehend that

  1. For every Karma done, there will be a result/ a fruit/ an effect (Karma phala) which can not be wished away by doer. (When we say “I am suffering from my Karma”, we refer to Karma phala only).
  2. The time at which the result/ the fruit/ the effect will manifest need not be immediate. It has its own humanly incomprehensible time frame cutting across several births.
  3. When the effect will manifest and to what degree or intensity, to what extent of benefit or damage — it lies purely at the will of God.

With this basic understanding, we shall now proceed to understand the classifications of Karma.

Three Types Of Karma

From a theoretical and to a large extent practical and comprehensible standpoint, Hindu scriptures classify Karma in to 3 catagories.

(1) Sanchita Karma (2) Prarabhdha Karma and (3) Agamya Karma.

Sanchita Karma & Prarabhdha Karma

Assuming that we have taken so many births in the past, we should have accumulated quite a huge baggage of Karmas . That huge baggage of karma (i.e. fruits of Karmas) is called the Sanchita Karma. Even in this current birth, whatever effects of karmas you have done since birth till now is also part of your Sanchita Karma.

Out of this huge baggage, by God’s will, some amounts of Karmas are taken out and given to you for enjoyment or suffering in this birth. That portion is called the Prarabhdha. Prarabhdha is indeed the cause of this birth. In a way, we can also say that Karmas remaining in the baggage after taking the Prarabhdha are sanchita Karmas.

In other words, Sanchita Karmas are the potential Prarabhdhas for the future (in this and also future births). They are the prarabhdhas in the waiting list! Sanchita Karmas are like the arrows remaining in the arsenal of the hunter. He may use them at any appropriate time in the future.

Whatever suffering or enjoyment you are experiencing in this birth are due to your Prarabhdha. It is like the arrows that an archer has already shot from his bow; they will have to hit the targets and they can not be withdrawn. Prarabhdhas have nothing to do with whatever Karmas you are currently doing. Prarabhdhas are effects, while your current activities are your current Karmas, not linked to the current enjoyment or suffering you undergo.

This is precisely where people get confused! This is where the questions like “Why is he suffering while he is doing good things only?” are raised.

As already said, for which Karma done on which birth has the Prarabhdha now started taking effect, no one would know, except God. Some saints say that Karma done earlier in this present birth too can become Prarabhdha later in this very birth, since every thing is subject to God’s will. Sri Ramakrishna says that any undisciplined activities done in the youth may start producing their ill effects at older age in the same birth.

Agamya Karma

Doing of Karma based on our wishes, needs, desires and in-born tendencies (called vasanas) is a continuous process. Karmas that you are doing right now and Karmas you are going to do in the future are Agamya Karmas; (Once those Karmas are done, they get added to the bundle of Sanchita Karmas. Agamya Karmas are like the new arrows that the hunter makes which he transfers to his arsenal once the weapons are made.

Thus Hinduism beautifully and almost scientifically classifies the Karmas without ambiguity.

Prarabhdha Karma And God’s Intervention

The general rule is that once the prarabhdha karma starts working, you can not escape from it totally; the recommended way to tackle it is to accept and bear it. Hinduism lays great emphasis on “Saranagathi” — total surrender to God as the best way to tackle the evil effects of prarabhdha. By developing firm faith that it is God who is the dispenser of the effects of Karma, accept everything as His will. If the suffering becomes intolerable, pray to him for succor. Saints declare that the more you try to fight out the evil effects of prarabhdha using your egotism, the more you get deeply entangle into it.

Holy Mother Sarada Devi (1853-1920) declares that God is all merciful and he would not bear a true devotee suffering excessively. If your prarabhdha is such that you have to suffer from a snake bite, she says that by God’s will it may just turn out to be a prick of a nail.

What if the prarabhdha is to cause you an unexpected windfall of enjoyment in life? In reality, it may have more potent traps for you to accumulate new Agamya karmas. Any unusual windfall of luck and gratification has every chance to boost your ego and make you forget God; instead of grasping that what you are enjoying right now may not have anything to do with your present actions or merits, you may be tempted to loosen up your morals and go in for more indulgence. That may sooner or later trigger the arrival of bad prarabhdhas.

Mata Amritanandamayi says that a person starts getting trouble in life particularly in a period when his egotism peaks.

One who remains surrendered to God understands that any out-of-the-way windfall of merry or prosperity was endowed to him by the will of God and he would be ever watchful so as not to get carried away by the lure of transitory pleasures.

Does Repentance Help?

Another question normally comes up in mind is whether honest repentance about an evil act done in the past decreases the bad consequence of the Karma? Can a good act of charity cancel out the evil effect of some other bad karma?

It is generally perceived that that good karmas and bad karmas have their own independent line of existence; It might be like the “credit” and “debit” having their independent entries in a double-entry book keeping system!

However, an honest repentance does seem to have a sobering effect on its specific consequence of punishment for the evil act. But, “canceling out” of a bad karma by an independent good karma doesn’t seem to be a practical proposition, though it may have a definite bearing in “lessening” the burden of the bad karmas. Doing “prayaschitta” (making some amends by doing good act) is generally recommended by saints to lessen the bad impact of prarabhdha.

Can Karma lead to lower births (like animals)?

Hindu scriptures say that human birth is rare to get and it should be rightly utilized to elevate oneself to become a better human being and evolve spiritually. We all have freedom of choice in doing Karmas and the actions we chose should never be leading to our mental and spiritual deterioration.

By indulging in evil activities in this birth, we may accumulate negative karmas that have the potential to lead us to a lower birth like an animal. Definitely it delays and affects our spiritual progress.  Mata Amritanandamayi says that excessive attachment to our wealth, children etc may also add to bad karmas leading to our birth as a dog in order to fullfil our desire to be with our kith and kin and safeguard our possessions, by living with our family members of the previous birth.

Karma And Duty

One thing to be clearly understood in karma is that you are bound by the effects of karma only if you have attachment / personal motive / desire behind doing karma. For example, a policeman shooting at rioters on the orders of his officer carries it out as his duty and hence he shall not acquire the karma of killing or wounding some of the rioters.

You Can’t Claim To Be The Executor Of Karma

Suppose you kill a person who has done a grave harm to you in the past; You can not claim “It is his prarabhdha karma that he had to be killed by me; I won’t accrue any sin because I acted as God’s instrument in executing it. Killing him is also my prarabhdha; I can’t help it”. It could be true that getting killed is his parabhdha, but your killing him is clearly an act of your Agamya Karma; you have had a motive, a vengeance in killing him and you have to face the consequences of it. Ordinary mortals can not usurp the role of God and claim justification by lopsidedly interpreting the law of Karma.

Know The Difference Between Kartha And Bhogtha

When you enjoy or suffer as a consequence of your past karmas, you are a “bhogtha” — the experiencer. When you do a karma, you are a “kartha” — the doer. You do not have the freedom of choice as Bhogtha — you have got to experience your effects of karmas of the past (to what ever degree God proffers to you). But you do, to a fair degree, have the freedom of choice as Kartha — doer. If you have a wick lamp, you can use its light to read Bhagavad Gita and get enlightened or you can use it to burn the Gita. This is the freedom of action available to you.

Regarding free will, Sri Ramakrishna says that as long as one has the idea of good and bad, the acting of free will (to choose between the two) too will be there; for one who has surrendered himself fully to God, there is no question of existence of free will; for him, everything is God’s will.

Swarga (Heaven), Naraga (Hell) and Earth – How do they fit in in Karma?

According to puranas, a jiva, when he does extraordinary good deeds on earth and acquire punya during his life time, enjoys life in heaven till he exhausts the punya. Heaven is the place where everything is joyful, no trace of any pain or unpleasantness. The jiva has no physical body; he has only a sukshma (subtle) body and all the enjoyments are only sensual enjoyments, enjoyed at mental body.  Once punyas are exhausted, the jiva has to necessarily come to birth to take up a human life to clear all the other karmas.

In the same way, the jiva has to undergo extreme suffering in hell for all the atrocious crimes and evils that he commits in human birth.  The Garuda Purana elaborates the various punishments that awaits the jivan for different heinous crimes he commits in earth. Here again, all the sufferings are at the sukshma body, experienced at mind. Here again, once the evil karmas are exhausted through punishment in hell, the jivan has to return to earth to taka a new body.

Ultimately, the earth is the only “Karma bhoomi” where the jivan has scope for totally playing out his good and bad and evolve spiritually by being a kartha as well as bhogta. In heaven or  hell, he is just a bhogta. He is not a kartha.

There are also view points saying that the very earth itself is both Swarga and Naraga because all sorts of enjoyments and sufferings exist here itself.

Karma Yoga – The way to escape the Karma cycle

As long as one has desires, ambitions and motives and engages in action to satiate them, the cycle of karma will never get severed. Man will have to keep taking births over births to enjoy the good effects of good karma and evil effects of bad karma. Hinduism says that human birth is not meant to be wasted for ever in this seemingly never ending cycle. It is simply the divine play of Maya that keeps deluding men into sensual, intellectual and egoistic pleasure-seeking, thereby subjecting them into countless cycles of birth and death. Getting caught in this never ending cycle of birth and death is known as Samsara.

But at some point of time, those who wake up to the hopelessness of this mad running around turn to true spirituality to seek a solution. Hinduism says that it is your attachment to fruits of actions that binds you to karma. If you can perform work with detachment towards the fruits, if you surrender all the fruits of actions to God, then you are not bound by the consequences of the Karma. This is the secret of attaining liberation and this is known as Karma Yoga — a great doctrine elaborated by Sri Krishna in the Holy Scripture Bhagavat Gita.


Related reading — Some more Q&A on Karma theory….



Understanding Hinduism – get a bird’s eye view of Hinduism and all its facets

Hinduism, one of the oldest religions of the world, is a vast religion with multiple facets. In fact it is said that it is not really a religion, but ‘Sanatana Dharma‘ — the eternal, righteous way. For the less-informed, Hinduism may look too confusing, too complicated to understand and too contradictory in its percepts and practices. Even many Hindus do not know the exalted philosophies of the religion. Through this article, we shall see some of the central tenets of Hinduism.

(1) God is One, but is amenable for worship in multiple forms:

Hinduism permits worship of multiple Gods who are endowed with different looks, powers and attributes; they, in reality, represent the One God, known as Brahman, Parabrahman, Paramatman or Satchidananda. Hinduism acknowledges that there are basic differences in every person in tastes, temperaments and capacity of intake in the matter of religion. In real life, a woman found distasteful to one man can be the soul stirring sweet-heart of another man. When such a difference is taste can exist, why not allow different tastes in worshiping the God?This is precisely the logic behind the idea of multiple God forms in Hinduism.

Thus, Hinduism permits you to choose a specific God form most appealing and lovable to you; it encourages you to believe whole heartedly that that particular God form indeed is the one supreme God. A chaste woman considers her husband alone to be the most handsome and most wonderful person; likewise, at the lower steps of religion, a believer’s conviction that his personal God alone to be the most powerful and the “only true God” is also encouraged.

(2) The Three Major God Forms – (Tri Murti)– Brahma -Vishnu -Shiva (Creator -Protector- Destroyer) – and the 6 Sects of worship of God

According to Hindu Puranas (Mythological stories), God does creation, protection and destruction of this universe in one after the other, repeating again and again in a cycle. As a Creator, He is Brahma; as a Protector, He is Vishnu; as a Destroyer, he is Shiva.

Lord Brahma- The Creator

However, there are other God forms also popularly worshiped and sects are existing in Hinduism, where specific God forms as the prime deity are worshiped.

Brahma as an individual God is not separately worshiped in Hindu tradition. There is no sect or tradition where Brahma is woshiped as God with exclusive temples for Him.

In this way, six major sects of worshipers of different God forms exist in Hinduism and the sects are:

i) Saivam:  The sect whose prime God of worship is lord Shiva.

Lord Shiva – The destroyer. Those who worship Shiva as the prime God are called Saivas.

ii) Vaishnavam:  The sect whose prime God of worship is lord Vishnu.

Lord Vishnu   (With Lord Brahma depicted sitting in a lotus flower emanating from the Navel) and His divine consort Lakshmi at His feet) Those who worship Vishnu as the prime lord are called Vaishnavas..

iii) Shaktam: The sect whose personal God of worship is Shakti, the Universal Mother.

Devi Para Shakti.  She is the devine consort of Shiva. The Universal Mother. Those who worship Shakti are called Shaktas.

  iv) Ganapathyam: The sect whose personal God of worship is Ganapathi (or Vinayaka).

Lord Ganapati or Ganesha.   He is the elder Son of Lord Shiva (Also known as Pillayar). He is the remover of Hurdles.  Those who worship Ganesha as the prime lord belong to the sect Ganapatyam.

v) Koumaram: The sect whose personal God of worship is Karthikeya (or Subramanya or Muruga)

Lord Subrahmanya or Muruga. He is the younger son of Shiva  (also called Kumara). Those who worship Lord Subrahmanya as prime belong to the sect Koumaram)

(vi) Souryam — for the worshipers of Sun; but this sect is practically non-existent now.

Lord Surya (Sun) Exclusive worship of Surya, as a sect Souryam is not prevalent now.

It must be noted that these are not to be considered as rigid compartmentalization of worshipers. There are other Gods too (like Lord Aiyyappa who is considered the son of Shiva-Vishnu) who are worshiped popularly. God’s Avatars too are quite widely worshiped.

For more details on other God Forms worshiped in Hinduism, please refer to the Article: The Various God forms of Hinduism.

Though a fair element of narrow-mindedness and inter-sect bickering about who is really the prime God nevertheless exist, there are plenty of Hindus who worship some or several of these God forms without narrow mindedness. Great saints and sages of Hinduism always guide seekers to understand the unity behind the diversity.

Great religious masters say that as a person matures in his religious progress, he comes out of such narrow convictions. He understands by experience that it is that one supreme lord, who has, by His grace, adopted to come in the form of his personal God and in fact, it is in the same way that He goes about to present Himself in other forms to satisfy other sects of believers. At the ultimate level of experience, the seeker perceives that the whole universe is simply nothing other than God (Brahman) and his individual soul is no different from it.

(3) The concept of Avatar:

Another fundamental belief in Hinduism is that God descends to earth to take birth as Human (or other) forms whenever the good and piety people suffer and the evil ones have an upper hand. God protects the good, destroys the evil and restores dharma (righteousness). Such a divinely person is known as an avatar.

Lord Vishnu is attributed with taking 10 such avatars. Rama, Krishna, Narasimha and other such divine personalities are Vishnu’s Avatars and they are worshipped as various forms Vishnu.

All forms of Vishnu or his avatars can also be worshipped in idols and each of the idols is treated as an “archavatar” — God’s form descended into idol, for the purpose and convenience of worship.Great saints are of the opinion that there is really no restriction to the number of avatars (unlike the Vaishnavaite’s belief about the ten avatars) as the phenomenon of avatar is an on-going process, based on the needs of the time. Based on this line of thinking, some great Hindu masters consider Jesus and Mohammad too as avatars of God.

Lord Vishnu is attributed with taking 10 Avatars, the prime and popular among them are Rama and Krishna.

(3) Karma and rebirth:

Hinduism says that life is not something confined to this birth alone. One’s present birth is the consequence of one’s past actions (Karma) in previous births. Desires and subtle mental leanings (vasanas) drive one into action. Hinduism says that as long as one has unfulfilled desires, one has to take rebirth. Hinduism, accepts the existence of higher world (heaven – “Swarga”) and lower world (hell – “Naraga”).

When a person does some extra-ordinary good things in one’s previous life, he may enjoy the fruits of such actions at the heaven for a while, but he has to come back to the earth again till he depletes all his Karmas. Likewise, Hinduism says those who did extraordinarily bad and horrific deeds in a previous birth have to undergo punishment at the hell and then comeback to earth to deplete the karmas. This is the idea professed in Bhagavad Gita and various Hindu mythologies.

“Again and again one is born, And again and again one dies, And again and again one sleeps in the mother’s womb, Help me to cross this limitless sea of life, which is uncrossable, my Lord!” – Bhajagovindam by Sri Sankaracharya)

Some Hindu saints explain this concept in a different angle saying that both heaven and hell are in reality existing in this very earth and any out-of-ordinary enjoyment or suffering that some people experience in human life is on account of the out-of normal good or bad deeds done by them in previous births.

Hinduism says human birth is rare to get and the purpose of human birth is to attain God or to realize one’s true Self. Births and deaths are nothing but a long winding path to attain this goal.

Once a true seeker understands this truth and the futility of running behind objects of desires, he renounces all worldly pursuits and surrenders to a Guru for guidance; by the grace of Guru and God, he gets untangled from the cycles of births and deaths and attains salvation.

It’s your past Karma that decides your future birth. Depending on your karmas, we may even end up in a lower birth like an animal, which means the much valuable Human birth (which is rare to get, according to Hindu saints) can be wasted by engaging in acts that degrade us instead of acts that elevates us.

Human birth is rare to get. It should be utilized to evolve oneself upwards spiritually. It should not be wasted in enjoyment of lowly pleasures and indulgence, leading to animal births again.

Karma and God’s grace:

Lord Shiva coming to the rescue of His devotee Markandeya to save him from death.

Does Hinduism encourage fatalism through the concept of Karma? No. What Hinduism says is that one can not have freedom of choice in facing the repercussions of the past actions, but one does have the free will to choose his present actions. It is quite obvious that only because we have the freedom of choice of action, we have accumulated our past karmas!

What Hinduism says is two-fold. One: The reactions to our past actions are not entirely self-propelling; they are indeed executed by the will of God; the more one surrenders to God and the more one accepts with humility the divine dispensation, the more one gets relief from the impinging effects of Karma.

Two: By carefully choosing one’s present actions based on dharma, by doing acts with a sense of surrender to the supreme and with dispassion, one paves the way for escaping from the evil effects of his present actions in the future.

(5) The concept of Yoga:

Another essential feature of Hinduism is Yoga — meaning Union. The purpose of human birth is to attain this Yoga — union of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. One of the path for this Yoga is the emotion-laden — the path of love towards God — which is Known as Bhakti Yoga (path of devotion). It is the most suited path for the majority.

The other approach is intellectual — the Path of inquiry — known as Gnyana Yoga (Path of knowledge). In this path, God is perceived to be beyond name and form and the ultimate goal is to realize by experience that the Individual soul and the Supreme soul are one and the same.

Both the paths are not strictly compartmentalized; They can co exist in an earnest aspirant and one path can lead to another. One can be more predominant than the other and one can complement the other.

There are two more yogas — one is the Karma Yoga, the path of selfless work without attachment towards the fruits of action. By Karma yoga, one gets purified and becomes fit for attaining the ultimate. The other is the Raja Yoga — also known as Ashtanga Yoga — the Yoga of eight steps. In this path, one, by practicing austerities and disciplines, engages in meditation and rises up to attain Samadhi (the ultimate state of union with the infinity).

Then we have Kundalini Yoga (in the path of Tantra) wherein by yogic practices one can raise one’s life lying as a coiled serpent in Mooladhara Chakra (a center close to the anus) to the Sahasrara at the top of the head, through various intermediate centers. At Shasrara, The soul merges with God and attain total union.

There is yet another yoga — the Hatha Yoga, which is more concerned with fine-tuning the physical body through yogasanas so that the body becomes the right instrument to attain the yoga. Thus Hatha Yoga is not considered truly as a path of union, but rather a discipline conducive for it.

What is popularly known as Yoga across the world today actually is practice of Yoga asanas (body postures) which is part of Hatha Yoga practices in Hinduism.

(6) The three schools of philosophy — DvaitaVisishtadvaita and Advaita and the concept of Maya:

The relationship of the individual soul (Jivatman) with the Supreme soul or God (Paramatman) has always been an intriguing aspect of Hindu religion from time immemorial, and there have always been differences in perceptions and the experiences of the true seers who have recorded their experiences.

Great religious masters have grasped the concept of God predominantly from three different view points — it is like three different persons looking at a mountain from three different angles and trying to describe its shape from their points of view. It is also professed that these three are really three stages, one leading to another but one not really negating the other. These three philosophies are briefly described below:

(a) Advaita (non-dualism): 

Jivatman and paramatman are one and the same. It is because of the play of Maya, the jivatman forgets about its oneness with the Paramatman. The paramatman, also called Brahman is beyond name and form. Brahman is all emcompassing, all pervasive, infinte, beginningless, endless, beyond description by words. It is beyond name and form.  Maya, the illusion is the phenomenon which creates duality — the good and bad, the matter and energy, the relative and the absolute, the temporary and the permanent. The existence of the physical world and the multitude of life forms, the lure of sex, the lure of money, materialism — everything is the work of Maya. Everything under maya is ever changing, transient, impermanent and delusive.  By negating everything created by maya, a seeker turn inwards and transcending his own ego, he attains oneness with Brahman. Maya is the divine play which is not amenable for grasp to the common intellect.

According to Sri Ramakrishna paramahamsa (19th century) , Brahman and Maya are like the fire and its nature to burn; They are like milk and its whiteness; they are both inseparable. If you think of one, you will think of the other too. Because of this maya, the individual soul wrongly associates itself with the gross body forgetting its real nature; Liberation or Moksha is attained when the individual grasps by personal experience that it is indeed the all pervading and all encompassing Brahman which is hidden behind its own wondrous and self-willed magic of maya.

Advaita is the oldest and the very fundamental philosophy of Hinduism originating from Upanishads. It was evolved as a concept and philosophy by Goudapada (6th Century). Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya (8th Century) was the prime teacher and propagator of Advaita philosophy across the length and breadth of India during his short life span of life (32 years).

(b) Visishtadvaita (Qualified non-dualism):

Like the physical body and soul are two different identities and the existence of the physical body is dependent on the existence of the soul inside it, the Visishtadvaita says that the Pramatman is the soul of the jivatman. Jivatman has no existence without paramatman and in that sense it is a qualified non-dualism. Just like the physical body never getting equated to soul, the jivatman can not be treated same as Paramatman. In Visishtadvaita, Vishnu is the prime God, who is Prabrahman (beyond name and form) as well as Ishwara (God with name and form). Visishtadvaita does not negate creation as illusion but accepts everything existing with name and form as God’s divine expressions. Attaining the abode of God (Vaikuntha) is the goal of human life and the path for it is Saranagathi (total surrender to Lord Vishnu/ Narayana).

Sri Ramanujacharya (11th/12th Century) was the prime teacher and propagator of Visishtadvaita philosophy.

(c) Dvaita (Dualism):

The individual soul or Jivatman is different from the Great soul or God or Paramatman. They are two different identities eternally. The individual soul can realize Paramatman but can not become one with it. The path for it is Bhakti (Devotion). Vishnu is the prime God, the Paramatman.

Sri Madhvacharya (13th/14th century) was the prime teacher and propagator of advaita philosophy.

(7) The significance of source books of Hinduism:

The 4 Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana) are the original source books containing the knowledge of Hinduism. They are considered as originating from God, heard and registered by great seers of the yore. Each Veda essentially contains two major parts — the Karma Kandam and the Gyana Kandam. The Karma Kandam deals with procedural rituals and the Gyana Kandam contains the supreme wisdom — the Upanishads (or Vedanta — The culmination of Veda). While the ritualistic parts got diluted considerably over the period of time, the Upanishads, the quintessence of Vedic knowledge lives on and they form the basic source of reference for all the supreme philosophies of Hinduism. They serve as guides for earnest seekers and also as reference books for comparing the experiences attained after practice of the spiritual disciplines.

Other than Upanishads, Brahmasutra (that contains the essence of Upanishads in cryptic aphoristic verses that explains Brahman, the competing theories including upanishads, Buddhism and Jainism, and the ways of spiritual practices. The Bhagavat Gita (the discourse about dharma and karma given by Lord Krishna to his disciple Arjuna at war front) is the third major source book of Hindu philosophy. These three texts are the basic reference sources and are known as Prasthana Tria.

Ramayana (The epic story of Lord Rama) and Mahabharata (the epic story of Pandavas, the five princes) are the two greatest Itihas (stories based on actual historical happenings) of Hinduism that contain the essence of Sanatana Dharma,the right and wrong practices of living, shastras and philosophies  explained through stories. Srimad Bhagavatam (the life story of lord Krishna and several other Avatars of God), and other Puranas (like Siva PuranamVishnu puranam etc) form the other basic reference books of Hinduism.

It is indeed an uphill task to briefly explain the central tenets of Hinduism. It must be understood that in such a vast and profound religion, there will always be a large gap between what is practiced as religion at the commoner level and what is preached and practiced at the exalted level.

But Hinduism attempts in a wonderful way to elevate every person inclined towards spirituality to a higher level, starting at the level the person already is.




Getting rid of our likes and dislikes – only after self-realization?

Satsang with Amma…

10th Dec 2012 – At Amritapuri Beach

Q: “Amma! We all know that our likes and dislikes are essentially due to our egos. To get rid of our ego, we have to get self-realization and only when we get self-realization, we will be in a position to love one and all equally without any reservations. It is quite a long drawn process and maybe advanced sadakas will be able to attain that state after quite some effort. But how about ordinary worldly people like us? Is there any quick mode of transport ( “a Concorde plane”) for us to reach such a state of self-realization?

The gist of Amma’s reply was as follows:

“It is true that one can reach the ultimate state of loving all only after self-realization. But a lot depends on our mental attitude. It does not mean that we can neglect our shortcomings and need not take any efforts to eradicate our ego-based likes and dislikes. If one says ‘I will take bath in the sea after all the waves subside’, he is never going to have a sea-bath.

“We are all essentially Atman; it is our true nature. But our ego is a product that we created. Our ego is like a bubble in the sea that thinks it is different from the sea.

“Satsang (company with the holy) is very important for us to develop the right mental attitude and to get awareness about what is right and what is wrong. We should shun bad company. Take the example of Kaikeyi. She was in possession of such a good heart that she rewarded a servant maid with a diamond necklace when the maid brought the news that Rama was going to be crowned as the prince. But what happened to the same Kaikeyi when Mandara stated giving her evil counsel? Kaikeyi’s heart totally turned negative towards Rama and she went to the extent of forcing her husband King Dasaratha to send Rama on exile to forest for 14 years.

“Qualities like love and compassion must be cultivated by effort. Once there was this young girl of a rich landlord, who was always found playing with the physically handicapped little daughter of the servant maid.

“The landlord did not like to see his daughter playing with a lowly servant maid’s child. He scolded her several times on this issue, but to no avail. In order to wean her away from that habit, he brought to home a nice child from the family of another rich landlord befitting his status. His daughter exchanged pleasantries with the new girl just for while, but she went back to playing with the handicapped child again.

“This infuriated the landlord and he asked his daughter why she was bent upon doing it. The daughter replied: ‘Father! This nice, rich girl whom you brought to play with me can get any number of friends to play with her. But what about this handicapped little girl? No one except me is willing to play with her; she finds so much of joy when I spend time with her; that’s why I play with her always’. “It is developing such a mental attitude that one can gradually get over with likes and dislikes on others.

“Yes. It is true that getting self-realization is a very long drawn process. It requires lots of patience and effort. One cannot afford to slack efforts and abort one’s goal midway. Once two spiritual aspirants were doing ‘Sadhana’ under a banyan tree for quite some years. The Celestial Sage Narada happened to pass by one day. As Narada had his daily contacts with the Lord Narayana, the aspirants were eager to know from God when they would attain God-realization. They appealed to Narada to inquire about it when he would meet Lord Narayana the next time. Narada agreed.

“A few days later, Narada came by. One of the aspirants eagerly asked whether Narada spoke to Lord Narayana and got the answer. Narada said that he did and what Narayana told him was that this person would require as many births as the number of leaves found in the Banyan tree to attain his self-realization. The person who heard this was devastated. He felt highly infuriated. “I have been doing severe sadhana for so many years and still Narayana says I will require so many births? Oh! Then its all a waste of time. It’s all a mere humbug then; I would rather go back to the world and enjoy it instead of wasting my time here” . He left the place fretting and fuming.

“Now the other aspirant posed the same question and Narada gave the same reply. Upon hearing it, the second aspirant was full of joy and started dancing in ecstasy! “O! Is it true that Lord Narayana indeed said that I would get my salvation after these many births, for sure? Oh! I am really lucky then! I am indeed blessed!” So saying, he continued to jump around and dance.

“At that very moment, the second aspirant got his self-realization instantly. Such was the reward he got for his mental attitude and patience.”