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.”



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.




Why Paramatma should turn to become Jivatma

26th February 2013 – Tuesday

One question posed to Amma in today’s satsang was “Why the nameless and formless God, the Paramatman should become a Jivatman (Individual soul)?  If Paramatman has no attributes, where from God’s love came?

The gist of Amma’s reply was as below:

It is indeed true that what exists in reality is Paramatman. Only the individuals feel they are separate because of their identification with ego. (Amma used to say frequently ‘everything is created by God, but ego is our own creation’).  Think of a pot that gets immersed into a ocean. What exists outside and inside the pot is nothing but the ocean water. (Ocean is akin to Brahman and the ocean water inside the pot is akin to jiva). It is the pot that seemingly creates a feeling that the water inside is different from the water outside. Our ego is like the pot.

Out true nature (Atman/Brahman) is like a sweet pudding. Just like mixing hot chilli or salt with sweet pudding (and spoiling its taste) our ego functions as the hot chilli or salt to prevent us to enjoy the bliss of our  true nature.

We all breathe the same air in the atmosphere. Whatever portion of air that one breaths cannot be claimed as one’s own.

Gold is same whether the ornament is a necklace, ear ring or bracelet. Wood is same whether the furniture is a table, chair or a cot. It is God who created the gold and wood. It is we who make ornaments and furniture and treat them as different.

With ego comes I and mine. When we are in deep sleep state (‘Shushupti’) we don’t have any knowledge of the existence of our body, mind or intellect. We have no feelings of mine — “my house”, “my watch” etc. But we do experience a state of bliss that is felt, but not expressive at that state. When we wake up our ego rises up with the feelings of “I” and “mine”. Thus the same person who existed as nameless and formless in the state of Sushupthi is the one now having a name and body at wake up state. (In a similar way, Brahman and jivan exist).

We have the feeling of mine to things — “My watch”, “My house”, “My car” etc. When we start discriminating: “This is my watch, am I the watch?”, the answer is no. “This is my house; am I the house?” – No. In the same trend, if we question “This is my body; Am I the body?”, the real answer is no. But unfortunately, we identify the body as “I”. That’s where the problem lies.

(We have to understand that our wakeful state is also like a dream).

In our dream, suppose we see a thief breaking open our vault and stealing our golden ornaments, we get grief and we start crying. But when we wake up, we grasp immediately that it was after all a dream and we have nothing to grieve about. Likewise, when the true spiritual  awakening happens in us, we understand that we are none other than the Brahman and all duality like pleasure and pain, love and hatred, happiness and anger vanish.

All of us know our real existence deep inside us. The knowledge of our oneness with Brahman is with us like a seed. Just as the seed is product of the tree and it contains the future tree in it, our Jivatma has the Brahman inside it.

All of us love ourselves. It is because our true nature is love.

Only in the outlook of a Gnyani, God is without name and form. For a devotee (Bhakta), the concept of Brahman is with name and form. A devotee (like we love ourselves) loves THAT God form.

As long as “I” and “you” exist, the feeling of “I love you” exists. Once true realization dawns and the unity is grasped, the feeling ends up as “I am love”.

It is only through sadhana, we can grasp our true divine nature. It is like a process of purification of sewage water into good water.


Is it necessary to do regular, annual ceremonial offerings (Shraddha karma) to the deceased parents?

Satsang with Amma…

(Dec 2012)

Amma’s reply:

“Our parents gave birth to us and did lots of sacrifice to bring us up. It is the duty of the children to take care of them at their old age. Our duty to them extends even beyond their death; The sacrificial and ceremonial food we offer to them and our fond remembrance of them on their death anniversaries do reach up to them in a subtle way, irrespective of whether they are still roaming around as spirits or whether they have taken a new birth. Like a properly addressed letter reaching the addressee through the postal delivery system or as a phone call getting connected to the person whose number is dialed correctly or like an e-mail reaching a person of the correct ID, the sacrificial offerings, properly identified with that person and addressed do get delivered to the spirits in the subtle world and they help the deceased to get positive benefits in their after-life.

“However, what is far more important is to take loving care of the parents while they are alive. Once there was a little boy, who was very fond of his grandfather. His grandfather used to play with him, tell him stories and take loving care of him and naturally the boy too was full of love for his grandfather. But the father of the boy had no love or reverence towards his father; he would ignore the old man and would not care about him at all.

“One day, the boy came to know that the birth day of the principal of the school was coming on the next day; the same day was the birth day of his grandfather too. When the boy mentioned about the birthday of his principal, the father suggested to him to present the person with a rose and he readily came forward to buy and give it to the son. The son asked, “Father, tomorrow is the birthday of the grandpa too! I love him so much; can you get me one more rose for him? If I present it to him, he will feel so happy”

““No. Not necessary. Your grandfather does not need such things” was the curt reply by the father.

“After some days, the grandfather passed away. The little boy was grief stricken. When he was sitting beside the dead body of his grandfather, his father brought a huge rose flower wreath to be placed over the body of his father. The boy suddenly got up, stopped his father from placing the wreath and asked him: “When I wanted to buy just a rose to present to him when he was alive, you did not allow me. For what purpose are you now attempting to place such a large rose wreath? Can you make grandpa happy with this now?”

It is obvious that what we do to our parents when they are alive is far more important than what we do after their death.

“However, as for as house holders are concerned, it is necessary that they do the ceremonial rites to their deceased parents.

“But in case of spiritual aspirants, who leave behind their worldly life and dedicate their life in quest of God, there is no need for them to do the rites meant to be done for deceased parents. Spiritual aspirants acquire quite some punya through their sadhana and selfless service and a portion of that punya definitely goes to the benefit of their parents. So, they need not worry about doing prescribed ceremonial rites for their deceased parents.”


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.”