Thursday May 24, 2018

Navaratri Special: ‘Devi’ in her own words

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By Nithin Sridhar

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 13

The Hindus of the yore, many of whom were Rishis (seers), very clearly perceived the connection between time, place, and cosmic energies. They realized how a particular fortnight was the most conductive for the Pitrs, the spirits of ancestors, to visit the earthly plane and named it as Pitr-Paksha, a time that is most suitable for worship of ancestors.

Similarly, they realized that though God/Brahman is always present everywhere and one should always practice devotion for spiritual and material welfare, there is indeed a particular fortnight when Shakti, or the Power of Brahman, specially manifests itself in the earthly plane in Her various aspects.

They discovered that this fortnight is particularly auspicious for worshiping Shakti, who is also called as MahaDevi (The Great Goddess) and as JaganMata (Mother of the universe), in her various forms, and harness the power/energy as well as the Tattva (essence) associated with each of the forms. Further, the Anugraha (grace) of the Great Mother is particularly available during these periods that can be attained through Sadhana (spiritual effort).

Realizing thus, the Hindu forefathers named the fortnight in the Ashwin month (September-October) that begins right after Mahalaya Amavasya as ‘Devi Paksha– the fortnight of the Goddess. The festivals of Navaratri, Durga Puja, Dussehra etc. have all been celebrated in various parts of India from a very long time for welcoming the Mother Goddess and worshiping her.

People call Her by various names and worship Her in various forms. She is called as Durga, Kali, Tripurasundari, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. She is worshiped in her Sowmya Roopa (calm aspect) of Shailaputri and Brahmacharini, as well as her Raudra Roopa (fierce aspect) of Katyayani and Kalaratri. She is also worshiped as Dasha Mahavidya– the Ten Wisdom Goddess.

Photo: http://enjoyfestivals.com
Photo: http://enjoyfestivals.com

But, who exactly is Mother? What is her real Swaroopa (nature/essence)? The answers to these questions are given by Devi herself in ‘Devi Atharvashirsham’.

The Devi Atharvashirsham which appears in Rigveda, is always chanted before beginning the reading of Chandi Path or Durga Saptashati, which is one of the foremost texts used in the worship of the Divine Mother. Saptashati as well as Devi Atharvashirsham are very important texts used in the worship of the Mother Goddess in the Shakta tradition.

In the Devi Atharvashirsham, when the Devas (gods) approach the Great Goddess and ask her “Oh! Great Goddess, who really are you?”, the Goddess describes her true nature thus:

sābravīt- ahaṃ brahmasvarūpiṇī  I mattaḥ prakṛtipuruṣātmakaṃ jagat I śūnyaṃ cāśūnyam ca ||

Translation: She said: I am the very nature/essence/form of Brahman. From me (has manifested) the entire cosmos consisting of Prakriti and Purusha, (as well as) void and non-void.

Thus, the very essence is that the Mother Goddess is Brahman itself. She is not a demigod, she is not an angel and she is not any limited manifestation. She is not limited by time, space, name, or form. Instead, she is Brahman itself which is the one infinite whole- the very substratum of the Universe.

The gist is, the Goddess is telling us that while worshiping her various forms, people should not mistake her form to be the ultimate truth. Instead, they should understand that she is in essence, Brahman itself, who is both transcendent and immanent reality.

She further calls herself as the mother, the substratum from which the Universe of duality has manifested. The duality referred here as Purusha and Prakriti, refers to the duality of conscious intelligence and the material objects, the witness and the actions.

Further, she mentions that she herself is the source of Void and non-void as well. Here, ‘Shunya or void refers to Unmanifested Prakriti or seed state of the Universe and the non-void refers to the plenum of the manifested universe with its various realms, objects, etc. Thus, the Mother is the source of entire gamut of the Universe, yet is beyond the limitations of the Universe.

The Goddess does not finish her explanation here. She further stresses that she is behind all the dualities- the pair of opposites found in the Universe. She says that she is the Bliss as well as non-bliss, the Veda as well as non-Veda, and the knowledge as well as the ignorance.

She further says that she is both ‘born’ and the ‘unborn’ i.e. She takes birth, yet she is eternal. This is an interesting definition. The law of nature is that whatever takes birth must die and hence, such objects cannot be eternal. Similarly, what is eternal, cannot take birth.

Yet, the Goddess has described herself as both being eternal and as taking birth as Universe. She is called as ‘Maya’ (magic/illusion) in Vedanta because she alone is able to accomplish such an impossible task. In other words, the birth of the Goddess as Universe and its objects is merely an appearance, a mirage, that she manifests using her power and in absolute state, she is eternal.

Devi further describes in the Atharvashirsha, how she is the essence and substratum of all deities- be it Rudra, Indra, Vasu, Aditya, or Vishnu, and how she sustains and cherishes each of them. She points out that she is the first among those worthy of worship, i.e. She being the very essence of all deities, it is She (Brahman) who receives the worship and grants the fruits to the worshiper.

She further describes that her abode is in ‘waters of the oceans’. Here, the ocean refers to Brahman or Consciousness which is Infinite and which exist as Innermost Self/Atman in each creature. Water of this Atman is nothing but the thought patterns that arise in the mind, just as water waves rise in the ocean. Hence, by saying that She resides in these waters of through patterns, Goddess is teaching how one should attain Devi/Atman, by meditating on the ‘I-ness’ or ‘Witness’ that exist beneath each thought that arises in mind.

Thus, through Devi Atharvashirsham, the Mother Goddess herself describes both her real nature as well as the means of reaching her. Understanding this, people should worship the Maha-Devi, who appears variously as Chamundi, Kali, or Durga, with sincere devotion and surrendering during the nine nights of Navaratri.

More in the Series:

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 7
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 8
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 9

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 10

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 11

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 12

 

 

 

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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)