Of hustle and mendicancy in teaching spirituality

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Teaching spiritual processes in urban India has become such a sad business. I have begun teaching my Yoga only in April this year and some interactions are surreal. There are too many people peddling wares purporting to be spiritual. Which is an issue but not as important as the fact that they are dependent upon those things to survive. This makes them desperate. The purchasers of such wares – they are rarely students – thus get an inordinate position of power. This is destroying the credibility of serious teachers as well as serious processes as the marketplace logic that prevails ensures a wheedling fawning mendicancy when it is not outright hustle. Those who think they are Seekers tend to act from that assumption. It is pretty obvious most of them have never met or engaged with a real Yogi, they would have got a sharp wake up call. It is even more obvious that this cringing marketing of supposedly valuable and life transforming processes is a disaster.

So pervasive has the hustle become that people engage from a place of profound suspicion and disdain. I do not market except by accident – all new students are word of mouth – but the significant majority of them come with this weird attitude – “I have money, now sell me, you sad case.” They have been educated to be so by the prevailing ethos. When I refuse to shrink or seek alms, or apologize for my prices, all of which seem to be the prevailing norm, they are astounded. Some of them are offended. The prevailing power dynamic is so askew that cancelling appointments more than once and expecting you to accommodate them seems to be the norm. When I refuse to tolerate such misbehavior there is incomprehension. What, no gratitude for the crumbs I deign to dole out at my convenience? The second cancellation is when I drop the person. This actually bewilders them. Such are the realities.

The other commonplace is the personal meeting. Everybody seems to want one. Quite other than the fact that it indicates you place no credibility in the friend who recommended me there are other issues. They expect to be wooed. They want to be called up and persuaded, pleaded with. When told ‘this is the date, place and time, turn up,” there is shock. After four books, as many ongoing blogs and over 100 teaching videos, what further credibility will a personal meeting confer? But the norm is to bow and scrape, to submit oneself to judgment and scrutiny.  So now I quote a stiff fee for the personal meeting and that is the end of that. This entitlement to the time and knowledge of others even before a single shekel has changed hands is very educative. Teachers have to insist on their dignity. It is not only for the famous.

People are not used to be being told “You are doing so many processes, why add one more?” Strange people abound; they have taken diksha from as many as five gurus. While they are disturbed, and need therapy not sadhana, what sort of vetting or questioning is being done on the part of these organizations that give away initiations en masse?  How are the basic rules of the Yogic traditions contravened with such insouciance? Since such a situation can be explained only by the prevalence of money grubbing, the caveat emptor mindset is not entirely wrong. What about the karma involved? Does anybody care? Is anybody aware?

Sarvam Shivamayam!!

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath, being a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker.  He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of Indiayogi.com, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha and leads multiple meditation circles each week. The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAryayogi

His blogs can be accessed here

https://aryayogi.wordpress.com/

http://actpersistintensify.wordpress.com/

http://creativeaye.wordpress.com/

http://zestandgrit.wordpress.com/

Brahma the forgotten creator god of India

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The story of Brahma is one of the most puzzling aspects of Indian religious evolution, for a god who had bid fair for supreme status, and seemed poised to achieve it, suddenly fell in the regard of men and has almost no worshippers today. He has not suffered oblivion like the other Vedic gods who were his contemporaries. He has just shrunk into insignificance, the god who was once great and is now living off past glories. Brahma is the god who used to be. His place in the myths of India is pan-Indian, he is a constant presence in all of them but almost always he is merely the opening act for the cosmic crisis that will follow. It is for other gods to perform heroics and save the universe; other gods bring meaning and value to the lives of the faithful, not Brahma. Not any more at least.

This was not always the case. Brahma is perhaps unique in all the gods of India for never losing his primary function as the God of Creation. Every other god has evolved, changed, been assigned a different cosmic role but Brahma in all his various aspects has always been a God of Creation. This is an unchanged belief system for at least five thousand years in India now; India has never looked to any other god to bring forth creation. Other gods and goddesses may be nominally superior to him, but their part in Genesis stops once they produce Brahma. The real business of ordering and structuring the universe is always and forever Brahma’s. I believe this to be a unique myth structure in the entire world. No other Godly-function myth has endured so strongly with almost no change at all thus.

340px-Brahma_Statue_in_Prambanan In the Veda he is known as Prajapati, the All-Father, which is what Odin was called in Norse mythology too. He comes to our notice when he begins to people the universe with life forms engendered by an act of cosmic incest he is committing with his daughter. They take many animal and organic shapes and all the offspring take on the shape of the moment of copulation. Which is how a barren universe fills up with vegetable and animal life. This myth is not shocking by the standards of ancient cultures, many of which had as a Primal Cause an act of incest. However the other Vedic deities are not entirely comfortable with this action, but they are powerless to punish the All-Father. It is then that Brahma is overcome by the foe that will pursue him throughout the ages and will finally vanquish him – Rudra-Shiva, the dark outsider god, peculiar, outside the ambit of Vedic ritual, fearfully respected because grimly powerful. Rudra shoots his irresistible arrow at the Prajapati and wounds him into weakness, a punishment that reduces his stature. In this primary myth is already encapsulated Brahma’s fall from grace into an object of derision and the replacement of his values by the wilder and freer norms of Shiva.

By the time the Upanishads and the Brahmanas were being written, Prajapati was having trouble controlling his offspring who did not want any part of his mission to create, and instead chose to remain immersed in meditation. These were the Dakshas as well as the divine sage Narada, mind-born son of Brahma. In a fit of frustration Brahma curses Narada to fall and undergo the travails of human existence, for refusing to get married and raise a new race of humans. But Narada is a god too, as well as a great rishi, and he retaliates by cursing Brahma to lose his worshipers for this entire Cycle of Creation. It is only in the next Yuga that Brahma will again be worshiped. In this myth is given the first explanation for the loss of Brahma’s status, a matter that has lurked as an unacknowledged trauma in the Indian Psyche, for there are many stories which seek to explain away this totally unthinkable fact. He was the God of Creation, the All-Father and if he could fall, then what certainty was there in the universe. The second noteworthy aspect of this myth is the first acknowledgement in Indian thought that celibacy is superior to the expression of sexuality. With retrospective effect this notion served to tinge the original act of incest that Prajapati committed in even darker hues.

brahma-narada5 There was a time when Brahma seemed to have climbed out of this downward spiral. This was the time between the 3rd century to the 10th century. He was even part of the Buddhist pantheon at the time, as great as Indra, and the god who persuaded the Enlightened One to risk teaching what the Buddha regarded as a difficult doctrine that might confuse people. There were many temples built to him and I am reasonably certain there were some lost Puranas too. But once his decline was certain there was no incentive to preserve the texts and they died out. The Brahma Purana that survives today is named after him but it does not in any sense indicate his supremacy as a god. The only halfhearted exceptions are the Padma Purana and the Markandeya Purana. It was at this time that a key template in the perception of Brahma was created. This is the standard Brahma myth after stories of creation. There is a bellicose demon who performs great austerities and gains many boons from Brahma. Puffed up with this divine strength he assaults all creation and ascends to a temporary position of supreme dominance. The gods are cast out of heaven and hell is let loose on earth. At this stage one of the other gods – Shiva, Vishnu, the Great Goddess or any of their many variants take a hand and after some gory adventuring they destroy the demon. So typical had this become that Ravana, Hinduism’s Uber-villain, is actually the grandson of Brahma and always in good standing with him.

 

In the Pauranic period, Brahma, as befits a God of Creation, was granted Saraswati the goddess of learning as his wife. (See our section in Saraswati.) Brahma survived as an object of some respect by being aligned to Vishnu, albeit with a distinctively inferior status. He is supposed to perform his manifold tasks of creation while sitting on a lotus that grows out of Vishnu’s navel. This is a great degradation from his formal status as one of the Great Trinity, but Hinduism being an instinctual faith rather than an intellectual one, nobody seems to have realized what has happened. The conflict with the Shiva cult remained and Shiva is constantly visiting punishment upon the creator. Once he cuts off the fifth head of Brahma for his disrespectful and lustful behavior. In another version he acts just in time to prevent Brahma from acquiring supreme status. At one time Brahma did become the Supreme God. His fifth head began to glow with a luster that proved unbearably scorching for all the Worlds of Gods and men because it was shining with the light of understanding of the Vedas that it had heard from the other four heads of Brahma. Shiva therefore, to save the universe as well as to check such presumption, cut off this glowing head. Shiva is supposed to have pronounced the final curse that caused Brahma to fall forever from worship, an indication of the total triumph of the Shiva faction over the votaries of Brahma.

 

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The story is that Vishnu and Brahma were debating which if them was superior when Shiva manifested himself as a great pillar of fire with no end in either heaven or the nether world. Vishnu took the form of a boar and burrowed down for countless ages to seek the source of this strange fiery pillar. He failed to do so and recognized that Shiva was not only the pillar, He was superior to him. He gave up the quest therefore. Brahma however, flew up as a swan and came back many aeons later with the report that he had seen the summit. An angry Shiva curses him for claiming credit for achievements not his own. He is cursed with perpetual old age and the total desertion of all worshippers. That explains why Brahma is always depicted nowadays as a senile old man who is so decrepit you wonder if he is not going to expire instantaneously. But as our illustrations show that was not always the case with Indian art.

 

The furious Shiva is popularly supposed to have relented and allowed Brahma one spot on all the earth where he has a temple dedicated solely to his worship. This is the famous Pushkar temple situated in the middle of a lake and an unusually serene spot. However the common perception of there being only one temple to Brahma is untrue. There are at least four major temples to him still in use today. They are Pushkar in Ajmer, Rajasthan; Dudhai in the state of Madhya Pradesh; Khed Brahma at Idar, also in Madhya Pradesh and Kodakkal in the Malabar region of Kerala-Karnataka. Remember you heard it here first! I would not be in the least surprised if more temples came to light tucked away in remote and obscure spots. Brahma worshippers are not desirous of the limelight. In vindication of this hunch just recently, July 2004, I came to know of a fifth Brahma temple in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This temple is part of a group of predominantly Shiva shrines at Kaleshwaram, 130 kilometers from Karimnagar, and is in the middle of nowhere in particular, so that explains its anonymity. I am certain more temples exist to Brahma and will be discovered in due time.

 

Here is the complete list of brahma temples courtesy of Wikipedia as on September 16 2013.

 

Temples devoted to Brahmā

 

 

  • Chaturmukha(Four Faces)BRAHMA temple at Bangalore, Karnataka, India

 

 406px-Brahma_on_hamsa

 

 

Brahma is depicted as a four or five-faced man with four hands. He is the epitome of Vedic learning and hence has the Vedas in one hand, prayer beads in another, the sacred water pot in the third hand and a ladle for the Vedic fire sacrifice in the fourth hand. In some versions he is depicted with a bow. This would be consistent with mythology as the supreme weapon is a missile called the Brahmastra, and it is a much sought after boon of Brahma. His vehicle is the swan, like that of Saraswati, and his complexion is supposed to be red. The Male Trinity too are a Red, Black and White (primary colors of spirituality) trio like the goddesses are. A day of Brahma is a span of creation and lasts for 2,160,000,000 human years! Creation is in abeyance during the night of Brahma, which lasts for the same length of time and then the Cycle is repeated. Brahma lives for a hundred years thus, and then he too dies and all creation is finally dissolved. Only Shiva, Vishnu or the Goddess, depending upon your cult affiliation are eternal and bring about the next Cycle of Creation. His various epithets represent his ancient creative role. Amongst them are Sanat, the Ancient One, Adi-kavi, the first poet and Srashtri, the creator.

 

 

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath, being a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker.  He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of Indiayogi.com, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha and leads multiple meditation circles each week. The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAryayogi

 

His blogs can be accessed here

 

https://aryayogi.wordpress.com/

 

http://actpersistintensify.wordpress.com/

 

http://creativeaye.wordpress.com/

 

http://zestandgrit.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vamana Avataar

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The first human form that Vishnu takes in his cycle of avatars is a deceptively simple and, at first glance, rather disappointing one. He comes as a little dwarf! Many fanciful interpretations of the avatar cycle being an embryonic theory of evolution have been bandied about. In this view, the Vamana or dwarf is evolutionarily correct, the first humans were indeed dwarfs as compared to our present stature.

The core story as narrated in various Puranas is simple. It is a highly expanded version of a single sentence in the Rig-Veda that,”Vishnu strode over this universe: in three places he planted his step”. By the time the Puranas got hold of that, it had become a great narrative. This avatar takes place in the Treta-yuga or second age of the Universe. The king of the Daityas or Asuras, one Mahabali (literally, greatly strong) had become powerful with the force of his austerities and he was showing up the gods in a very poor light indeed. They even had to vacate heaven for him, as they could not stand up against his might or his force of personality. It was very humiliating, but in terms of virtuousness they had to admit the Daitya had a better right to rule over heaven than themselves, who had habits and behaviors that were slippery and more than a bit reprehensible.

In this, Mahabali was very different from his notorious ancestors. He belonged to a family that was capable of causing trouble only on a cosmic scale and twice before Vishnu had to incarnate as an avatar to stop his ancestors from overrunning the universe. He was the grandson of the great Devotee of Vishnu, Prahalada. To rescue Prahalada and the gods from his persecuting father, Hiranyakashipu, the Narasimha avatar came in to being. And Hiranakashipu’s brother was the even more terrible Hiranyaksha, who had to be taken out by the Varaha avatar. So all in all, Mahabali had a very respectable pedigree when it came to universe conquering. However he was different in that even the gods had to accept his overwhelming virtues.

Nevertheless, they complained to their nominal mother, Aditi, the wife of the great rishi Kashyapa. Aditi’s fervent pleas convinced Vishnu to do something and remedy this situation, especially as Mahabali was beginning to show signs of being corrupted by power. He agreed to be born to Aditi and Kashyapa as a dwarfish son, so as to disguise the potential threat he was. By now Mahabali was having delusions of grandeur and he also thought that he was greater than the creator. For he was holding a great festival-sacrifice, and he announced that he would satisfy the desires of all who turned up. Vishnu appeared as this extremely charming little Brahmin boy. His speech and intellect captivated the poor unsuspecting Daitya, who wished to reward the little man for his formidable display of learning. He rashly and proudly promised to grant any wish of the visitor.

By now his guru, the wily and suspicious Shukracharya, had worked out that this Brahmin was none other than Vishnu and he was here to play mischief with the glory of the Daityas. He urged Mahabali not to go on with this fatal generosity, as Vishnu was sure to ask for something that would destroy them. Mahabali however, would not budge from his pledged word. Such exemplary fidelity to truth was going to destroy his race, and his guru was angry that he was putting his personal reputation above his duty to his people. This refusal to listen to good advice is indicative in the Hindu Worldview of a wilful desire for self-destruction. In any case, the dwarf was only asking for as much land as could be covered by three paces of his feet. It was almost insulting that he was asking for so little when the riches of the great Mahabali were at his disposal. However the dwarf answered that he who could not be satisfied with three paces of land would never have satisfaction in anything, with no end to his desires.

maha005 Mahabali promised him his three paces, whereupon the dwarf suddenly assumed a cosmic galaxy spanning size and covered the universe in two paces. The third pace was thus a debt upon Mahabali and he asked Vishnu to place it upon his head, as that is the most valuable possession he owned, Vishnu having already achieved dominion of all else. In some versions of the myth, Vishnu uses his three paces and covers the triple worlds. Mahabali is thus deposed from his position as ruler of the universe and Vishnu, like all good leaders of such revolutions, exiles the former ruler to the nether regions, called Patala. There is a sneaking sense of regret at such scurvy treatment towards a ruler who had done no wrong and kept his word to boot. Vishnu is supposed to have given him the eternal dominion of Patala as some sort of compensation for being cheated in such a fashion.

onam_festival In fact Kerala’s Onam festival is based upon just this aspect of the myth. Once a year, Mahabali comes back to see how his former subjects are faring, and they put on a gorgeous spectacle to reassure him and not cause him any unhappiness that his people are suffering! In this rather naïve outlook is clearly represented the fact that public opinion felt Mahabali had been done a dirty trick. That however, is the nature of Vishnu who is the Trickster God of mythology par excellence. One very unusual version of the myth says that Vishnu felt remorse at this treatment of a pretty decent king and asked him to choose between a place in heaven and hell. The only catch was that his companions in heaven would be five fools, while in hell he could have five intelligent and wise sinners. Mahabali chooses the latter feeling that hell is the company of stupid people. Vishnu was enchanted by this perception and granted him the dominion of Patala. So strongly is the injustice done to Mahabali felt that it is also written that he will ascend to the position of the leader of the gods, Indra, in due course after the present incumbent’s term is over.

In this myth there is also a curious aspect of the Avatar cycle which is passed over, and that is the fact that some avatars are double avatars. The Vamana form is what the avatar is known as, but when he transcends it and grows, he becomes Trivikrama, the Triple Victor of the three worlds. In a sense therefore, it’s the most complete avatar, there is nothing greater than this. This is Vishnu’s greatest form, in no other avatar, not even as Krishna, did he ever manifest such glory. It also is an allegory on the latent potentiality in every living thing as well as a warning never to underestimate anything because of its appearance. The insignificant looking dwarf, a butt of ridicule and fun, turns out to be the World Overthrower. It Illustrates an old Sanskrit saying, Yatha Pinde, Tatha Brahmande. Which means, “As with a man, so with the Universe”. It is the same thing as the old mystical definition of man as a Microcosmos, which mirrors and is in essence the same as the external Macrocosmos. Or – As within, so with out; As above, so below and so on and so forth. We are all, in potential, the Universal Man.

Vamana Avatar However, this lesson seems to be slightly more than the average mind could easily take within and the Trivikrama form has only been used to illustrate the walls of temples, almost never worshipped. A sympathy with such a transcendental form would have caused a social revolution, and it was quietly put aside in favor of the more manageable Rama and Krishna or the placid Sleeping Vishnu

 

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath, being a writer, a corporate trainer, a mythologist and a vibrant speaker.  He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five European languages} the first book on Tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He was the Editor of The Leadership Review, and on the advisory panel of Indiayogi.com, the first spiritual portal in the country. Currently he is the Director of Pro-Factor, a leadership and change facilitation corporate training outfit. He has been an arts critic and socio-cultural commentator for over two decades. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga. He founded the Arya Yoga Sangha and leads multiple meditation circles each week. The videos of his talks on various subjects can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAryayogi

 

His blogs can be accessed here

 

https://aryayogi.wordpress.com/

 

http://actpersistintensify.wordpress.com/

 

http://creativeaye.wordpress.com/

 

http://zestandgrit.wordpress.com/