How do you cleanse your past bad karma? Some say forgiving people who have wronged you can get you rid of your bad karma, But what if past life’s bad karma manifests as illness or disease?

The effects of karmas of the past are necessarily to be gone through. But the intensity of suffering has every chance of getting reduced by divine grace based on the strength of good karmas currently being done (like forgiving the people who wronged you).

We have karma swatantra (freedom to do actions based on our self will) but we do not have bhoga swatantra (enjoying or suffering the effects of past karmas at our choice). We have to only wait for divine grace.

Past karmas’ effects may still manifest in us as illness or disease, but by divine grace, the intensity of suffering may get reduced.

Ma Sardada Devi used to say that if your karma phala was that you should die by the bite of a poisonous snake, by divine grace, it might get changed to a minor wound caused by the pricking of a thorn.

Let us see a hypothetical example. A person, out of a spurt of anger, killed his neighbor and his 2 children by scheming a car accident. For 6 months, the police could not get any clinching evidence to locate the murderer. Hence this person was neither suspected nor arrested. He lead a happy and normal life for 6 months and was very hopeful that he would never get caught.

But after 6 months, a new Inspector took charge of the case and he was extremely smart to probe deeper into the case and the forensic reports. He accused the person of murdering the neighbor and arrested him. The case dragged on for 1 more year and he remained in jail as he could not gt bail. His lawyer argued strongly that his client was innocent. However they lost the case and he was sentenced to death. He appealed to the higher court. Another 1 year in jail. He was reading spiritual books from Jail library. His mindset went through a change.

Despite his lawyer’s advice, he pleaded guilty. The high court cancelled his death sentence and he was imprisoned for life. He behaved very well in Jail and was doing whatever service he could do there. The jail authorities recommended for reducing his period of imprisonment. He was released on account of good conduct after serving 7 years of imprisonment.

Even though he admitted his guilt and repented for it, he did not get released from Jail. He had to go through the imprisonment, but he was saved from death sentence and also his term in jail got reduced.

Karma and dharma more or less work like the above example.

How to conduct yourself inside a Hindu temple

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

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

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

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

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

Leave your footwear outside the temple

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

Dress conservatively

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

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

Accept the dress code

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

Observe personal cleanliness

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

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

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

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

Chant God’s holy name, your mantra or hymns

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

Keep the temple premises clean

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

Maintain silence, decorum and reverence at the Sanctum sanctorum

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

More “don’t”s

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

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

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.”