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Symbolism assists understanding

{written by : Sri Bimal Mohanty}

Article word count : 4469 -- Article Id : 1402
Article active date : 2009-01-10 -- Article views : 9652

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Symbols are not diversions. They are effectively used to draw attention to the focal point and greatly help our understanding, Great truths become simpler to comprehend.

Reincarnation The Neverending Journey
In Reincarnation The Neverending Journey an attempt is made to explore the conundrum of our existence. An existence that spans yesterday, today and even tomorrow. Questions surrounding the existence of the soul and our connections to the physical world, the fundamental mechanisms and the processes by which reincarnation operates through time, are carefully examined. Plausible revelations on memories and karma and their intrinsic connections to our lives today and tomorrow are explored. It is a Neverending Journey.. Your Neverending Journey....

by Pieter Heydenrych

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"Based on the lectures by Sri Bimal Mohanty"

This subject of symbolism in Sanatana dharma is often a most misunderstood subject. Those who take a superficial view of this, often find it a convenient argument to decry the profound philosophy of Adveitavad, the single consciousness concept that is the truth in every serious religion. The Sanatana Dharma followers are degraded as multi God worshipers - a kind of people who put up any stone, object or phenomenon and start treating it as God and worshipping it.

According to them, this detracts men from the one-lord concept. However, any serious student of the sanatana dharma and the symbolism associated with it will quickly know that exactly the opposite is true.

Much before any organised religion saw the light of the day, the sanatana philosophy had discovered the logic of one omnipotent, omniscient, non-dual consciousness which is the source of everything.

Ekam Brmham param bramham dvitiyam naiva vidyate

Satyam satye pratisthitam jah pasyati sah pasyati

(There is one Bramhan - The Supreme Bramhan without a second. The truth is truth"s own proof. Those who see it see it thus.)

But expounders of this philosophy also knew that realisation of this profound truth, will not come easily to the common man. This will need constant reminding, churning in mind, study and practice so that the truth can sink in.

Therefore, whatever was seen, whatever was thought, whatever was done, whatever created, existed or lost, they gave it a divine symbol, representing something or other of that all encompassing identity- the Param Bramhan. The idea is, everything that we do, think or desire, all should remind us of that Parambramhan continuously and unfailingly. If I touch something I must touch the divine. If I see something, I must realise that am seeing the divine . If I do any work, it must be the work for the divine. Nothing is outside divinity.

This is not simply confined to objects, but actions and phenomenons and happenings around us, all must point to the Lord or the Parambramhan.

When I say Isavasya sarvamidam - the Lord pervades everything, or Vasudeva sarvamiti - the Lord is there in everything, Mamayoni mahat bramha - I am the great source of all beings, these should not remain as utterances for the benefit of high intellectuals hidden in the pages of Upanishad or Bhagavad Gita. What good will it do then?

This must be understood and realised by all at the common level. And if it is to be understood by the common man, then it should also be told in the common parlance.

And to do that, what could be a better idea than to create symbols, ascribe a meaning and point them out so that it sinks deep into the memory? Once the seed is planted, how and what shape the tree will grow into is a matter of sadhana, spiritual practice.

When the BramhaSutras declare "Janmadyasya Yatah", (All that come to being, sustained and dissolve have that one single source i.e. Bramhan), it not only points to that single entity but forcefully tells us to look for that God The Bramhan only in everything.

The God is in everything and everything is God.

And if everything is God then everything assumes a status of reverence, worshipable, pujaniya. That idea is indeed hidden behind Isavasya sarvamidam jatkincha jagatyam jagat. All that is this universe is the Lord verily.

This wonderful idea is twisted by critics to brand Sanatana Dharma as a multi God, pagan religion of the uncivilised. But fact is, when sanatana dharma conceived and realised the concept of one Bramhan truth, there was no other religion worth the name in the entire civilised world.

It is necessary to understand these fundamentals in our path to God realisation. Things that superficially are discarded as stories, fables and imageries, are indeed enabling factors to understand a deeper philosophy.

As was said, these symbols were not kept confined to physical objects. Even happenings and events, natural laws and movements, all assumed for the seeker, a divinity. The only purpose was to keep the wavering mind, the doubting mind, firmly fixed to the pole star, - the Dhruva- of Parambramhan.

The other day, I was listening to a discourse. I came across another beautiful symbolism which drives home this point very well. I would like to share that with you, before we go into further philosophical analysis. See for yourself how every symbolism goes to condition our very life, our spiritual life.

Most of you must have visited Sangam - the confluence of three sacred rivers at Prayag near Allahabad. This is a work of nature. See how the mind goes to discover the divinity in it for its own advantage.

Please follow this carefully to understand where the seers are leading us.

There are three rivers that meet at this Sangam.

Firstly what are rivers ? Rivers being resources of life sustaining water are revered by all. They are described in the Vedas as Rtasya dhara- streams of truth and knowledge. The very life on this earth is dependent on rivers in many ways than one. Remember again the symbolic story of the Rk Veda when the serpent Vritra confined all the waters of the rivers within its coils. The world was to get destroyed until Indra with his weapon Vajra killed the serpent and released the water for the creation to survive. The life enriching rivers flowing down to meet the ocean have always fascinated our seers as symbols for streams of knowledge reaching out to the source of all knowledge and enriching its banks as she moves along .

This sangam that we are talking about is the confluence of three such rivers. We have Saraswati. She is the Goddess and symbol of harmony and knowledge. When she flows down from heaven to earth she brings with her this harmony and knowledge that enriches my life, your life, every body"s life.

The spirit of Saraswati is the basis of all understanding of spiritual knowledge. The Rk Veda (1.003.12) says maho arNaH sarasvati pra cetayati ketunA dhiyo vishvA vi rAjati

Sarasvati_enlightens all understandings. Sri Aurobindo saw her as one who or which makes us conscious by the ray of intuition -- pra cetayati ketuna. Griffith explains : She brightens every pious thought.

She runs deep, not in the open like Ganga and Yamuna. So does true knowledge. Knowledge has no visibility. It is only realised.

After Jnanaroopa (knowledge personified) Saraswati, let us take the next river Yamuna. What she represents? Yamuna represents the message of Yoga. She represents Karma or the action. What is Yamuna"s relationship with Karma? After expounding the details of Karmayoga to Arjuna Lord Krishna tells that the first recipient of the knowledge of this Karma Yoga was Vivaswata - that is the SunGod. Yamuna is the daughter of Sun, (Bhaskaratanaya). She has the direct knowledge from her father of the message of Yoga - KarmaYoga more particularly. When she flows down the lands, she brings to mankind this message of Karma Yoga.

Now let us think of the great Ganga- The Ganges. Ganga symbolises Bhakti Marga or the path of devotion. All along the banks of the river Ganges, we have innumerable temples, ashrams, places of rituals signifying the cult of Bhakti. No other river has this kind of character. Ganga is imagined to be a symbol of Bhakti as it is the only Goddess who is most closely associated with all the three aspects of Bramhan. The Bramha the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the transformer. Her association is of simple adoration. As the imagery goes, she is originally associated with Bramha the creator, residing inside the Pot of water - the Kamandalu that he carries. Since a river can not be kept confined and its waters must reach many, it must flow out. When the question of pouring her out of the Kamandalu came up she opted to be poured out at the feet of Vishnu out of seer adoration to him. But Ganga was destined to come down to the earth from heaven for the benefit of entire mankind. When she descended, she touched the head of Shiva. That is why we say, when you immerse yourself in the waters of Ganga, you immerse yourself in Paramatma himself , imbibe all three aspects of Bramhan (Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva) and obtain Moksya or liberation.

So, now one can imagine how these three rivers relate to life itself. The three rivers joining together flow as one great river to the ocean beyond. The life that we live is often symbolised as a river flowing down to meet the ocean, which again symbolises the ultimate Bramhan. There are many descriptions as to why the life is like a river and the ocean is like the Bramhan. We shall not go into that here. But what we are given to understand is that as a river has its goal as the ocean, so does the life its final goal to lose itself in Bramhan.

When the life"s preparation starts to meet the ultimate destination, what is needed? You have to be enjoined or yukta to this journey in pursuit of The Bramhan. You have to be a Yogi first.

What are the paths of Yoga? There are essentially three major paths of Yoga. The Yoga of action (Karma Yoga), The Yoga of knowledge, (Jnana Yoga) and the Yoga of devotion (The Bhakti Yoga). Bhakti is essential. If one does not have the initial inclination, the adoration and submission to the Lord, the sadhana can not be sustained. One will always falter.

But what good is Bhakti without knowledge and understanding? We have talked enough about the imperativeness of Jnana. Unless one acquires knowledge there will be no progress beyond a certain point.

And finally the third path so eloquently expounded in The Bhagavad Gita. Without action the goal is not attainable. One can not shirk action and aspire to reach God. That is the essence of Karma Yoga.

So if life has to progress towards that final destination, the Satchidananda, then Bhakti, Karma and Jnana must combine in life. Yamuna and Saraswati must merge with Ganga and then flow together to the great ocean. After the sangam or confluence the Bhakti of Ganga is enriched with the knowledge of Saraswati, strengthened by the Karma of Yamuna and together the river of life flows to the ocean of Bramhan. The names of Yamuna and Saraswati are irrelevant thereafter. It is only known as Ganga. The human life is only Ganga. Because if Knowledge is within us, if we are constantly engaged in action - the right action, then it is only Bhakti, our Dhrti, our singleminded commitment that will carry us to the end.

This is how our seers in the past devised to educate us in the path of Dharma. Next time you take a dip in the sangam, marvel about the depth of their thinking, think about these symbols and most importantly condition your mind to vibe with the central theme. It should not be a mere ritual.

When we talked about the various Gods or Devatas whom we must invoke to assist us in our fight against the dark forces, it also implied two levels of understanding. One way to look at the Devatas, is to personify them, attribute special powers to them and cultivate a sense of submission to these adorable qualities. To submit to Rama is to submit to the unbending moral truth - the maryada of truth - and by that, emulate those qualities in life. To submit to Krishna is to submit to uphold the dharma or right conduct against wrong doers, all the time. All these have the purpose of developing oneself as a better being. The Devatas then become examples to live by.

Another way to look at The Devatas - which appeals to higher understanding - is that the Devatas are nothing but qualities or bibhutis of that one Superconscious being, the Bramhan, without so much of a physical description. And since Bramhan is also within us, all these qualities are also within each of us. This means that all these Devatas, Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Durga, they are also within us along with their power and strength. When we talk of invoking the Gods for our assistance, the higher mind understands it as increasing the consciousness, the awareness of these qualities, each represented by one God which lie dormant within us. When we become conscious of all these qualities we become Bramhan conscious.

Being consciousness of these qualities activates the latent power within us. The power gives us strength to find the shortcomings within us, and fight out to overcome them. This is what the wise understand as the Gods fighting the battles for us. The great power that lies sleeping within us, awakes and then lifts us up against all obstacles. The infinite capacity of man is then realised to its full potential and miracles are achieved. That is what they describe as Mukam karoti bacalam, pangu langhayate girim. The mute discovers the speech, a physically handicapped climbs over the mountains

Who achieves all these. It is this Jiva, the individual self like you and me who finally shows achievement. It is not the popular imagery that the Gods come down floating in their chariots and fight the battle of life for us. That imagery is true yet it is not true. The divine attributes, the qualities and strength that are bottled up inside us gets released and greatness is achieved. The power that we draw from concentrating and meditating on those special divine qualities, is the grace of the Gods. When we say that the Gods descend unto us, it is the highest activation, conscious feeling of these Godly qualities that rise within us. Gods merge with us and we become Gods.

Think for a moment this beautiful concept embedded in our Sanatana philosophy. This is positive thinking at its highest. This is the theory of self development. This is practical spirituality. When you worship a God, you activate that particular power that lies dormant in you. It is not another God. It is another attribute of the same Bramhan.

It not only explains why we worship so many Gods but also acts as a motivational force for our own self emancipation.


Question 1 from Sri Debashish Bose - Varanasi

(paraphrased) People nearing old age want to take leave from this worldly life of running after money only and want to take SANYAS so that they can seek GOD through Yoga-Sadhana. They wish to live in an ashram like a destitute after leaving everything worldly here. I want to take guidance from you in this regard where I can do Yoga-sadhana after taking sanyas and can live a truly peaceful & yogi life.

Answer :

We often wish to go away somewhere to become a Sanyasi. We should ask ourselves this question "Why do I want to do this?" We say we want to seek God? Then ask again "In all these many years if I have not sought God, what has prevented me from doing so? Is it simply because, an outward state of sanyas (including frugal living, ashram life, yellow robes a Guru etc etc) which was missing or there is a deeper reason? We say we are after peace. Then what is the real reason that prevented us from being at peace with ourselves in all these years? We say we do not want to run after money. Why did the Lord make us run after money all these years? Did He have a purpose behind our life which we have failed to understand? Is there a different cause that made us live differently than the way God intended according to our interpretation?

The exalted state of Sanyas as Sanatan philosophy teaches, is a grossly misunderstood concept by most people in this world. It is more sought after as an escape route, an act of running away instead of an act of austerity( sadhana) which it is meant to be. Why am I not seeking God right now, amidst whatever I am doing and remaining within the ambit of my present environment? If plunging straightaway into Sanyas is the best alternative, it would appear that the entire knowledge imparted by Lord Krishna to Arjuna was all in vain. What has The Bhagavad Gita taught us?

Entering into the state of Sanyas should be understood in its right perspective

Sanyas is not an alternate route to God realisation. It is a logical stage which comes after right and successful performance of one"s conducts or Karma leading to sanyas. The pandavas did not embark upon their renunciation until after The Mahabharata war was successfully fought. The lord made sure that Arjuna could not run away without completing his task.

Ofcourse, different people are at different stages of their mental and spiritual consciousness. Hence all my comments may or may not be applicable to all, There is no intention of hurting anyone"s feelings. But for general audience, old age does not necessarily and automatically becomes a time for sanyas. Many who have taken to sanyas without preparing themselves first, have ended up in a state of confusion and deeper darkness .(bhuyah tamah).

Taking sanyas should be a natural entry after the previous purusarthas ( mandatory actions in life ) have been rightly conducted. One should first contemplate on the past years and must be reasonably satisfied (I say reasonably because no one is perfect) that one has truthfully discharged one"s family, social and community obligations and is not running away from obvious unfinished duties and without playing his assigned role. The divine system has a chalked-out role for every single created being in Lord"s grand design. The nature does not allow cheating the system. If the Lord has given money and position, have these been utilised in helping others in their spiritual development? One should also satisfy himself - and this is very important- that one has spent a reasonable amount of time in acquiring adhyatma jnana, (spiritual knowledge) before entering into pure tapasya, or austerity practices and knows what he is after.

( Please look for a series of articles titled "Preparations for Sadhana" soon to appear in Ahwan).

If on any count the viveka (the discerning mind) has doubts, one should rededicate oneself to leading a righteous life, within the very ambit of this world. It has to be an intelligent and conscious decision before any thought of renunciation is embraced.

If one forces upon oneself or take casually the life of a sanyasi, the burden of shortcomings will not only create obstacles in this life but will also goad him in next lives. This will be a setback in one"s spiritual evolution.

Sanyasa should come with due preparation. There are six steps for this preparation elaborated in the articles "Preparations for sadhana". These are sankalpa (determination), swasthya (physical ability to undertake sadhana). Swadhyayana (self study of scriptures) samsuddhabuddhi (clarity of thought),shraddha ( faith) and samarpan (surrender). Even those true sanyasis who have skipped all purusarthas and taken sanyas in an early life, that too is a logical extension of preparations made in the previous lives.

There is no hurry at all as long as right steps are being undertaken. If not in this life, then in the next life, life after next, the spiritual evolution takes place without pause. Many people get too restless for a peaceful ashram life or for the advent of a Guru or for a quick pill of adhyatma. Know for certain that our every action is being lovingly watched by the mother of all mothers - the Bramhan himself. When we have acquitted ourselves well and we have made ourselves ready, there happens inevitably a change of life, a transformation of mind, a Guru seeks us out and comes along, and the Lord takes us in his lap. Have that kind of trust in The Lord. Go in for serious reflection before such a vital decision is taken. Listen to your inner voice The permission to take sanyas comes first from within, The transition to sanyas has to be conscious, logical and smooth, Only then one can hope for moksya.

Question 2 from Ms GiselaSchlemann

What is the meaning of Ahwan?


Although we have explained this earlier, we keep on getting this particular querry regularly. I repeat here the answers to a similar question which appeared in one of the past issues of Ahwan. I hope this will help.

The Lord has created each one of us as an indispensable unit to serve the purpose of his creation. The entire creation all around us is His grand enterprise to assist every single one to evolve towards a higher mental being and finally towards Satchidananda. (The ultimate truth, its realization and the ensuing bliss.) This is a grand endevour- The Mahayajna.

Every individual life is also a yajna in itself contributing to this Mahayajna or the grand endevour. His call reverberates in the universe aimed at all of us to be a part of this evolutionary process.

Ahwan, which means "the call" in sanskrit is this call to the inner soul of each individual to rise above a life of futile existence and explore for one"s own sake as well as for the sake of all around him the higher purpose of life. A purpose not unknown yet paradoxically ignored in our ignorance.

Cutting across all narrow contradictions the movement of "Spiritual Approach to Life" is to make spirituality the guiding principle for every aspect of living.

Question 3 from Sri Paresh B. Rasania, Gainesville

Why it is hard to control anger? Anger comes naturally by its own. Please guide me in this matter. Thanks.

Answer :

At least most of us agree on one thing, that anger is a dangerous emotion. So much so that The Bhagavad Gita enumerates three gates that lead straight to hell. One of them is Anger (Krodha). Anger is a state of temporary insanity (sammoha). An angry person has mental blackout of reasoning. Lord Krishna says

Krodhaad bhavati sammohah sammohaat smriti vibhramah;
Smritibhramshaad buddhinaasho buddhinaashaat pranashyati

From anger comes temporary or partial insanity; As an insane person loses all bearings of memory so also a man in anger. With no memory to guide him, he does not know what is right or what is wrong - no discrimination- and when the knowledge of right or wrong is absent verily it is a one way street to self destruction.

Some psychologists argue also that anger comes as a natural outburst of a suppressed feeling. And if it is not vent out, it harms. In some way they are right too.

What is a spiritualist"s view in the midst of all this? Knowing the destructive power of anger it simply aims to know the source of such an emotion and make sustained efforts to eliminate all contributory factors that give rise to anger. Not suppression but elimination of the birth of anger itself. Try to eschew it before it takes root.
The root cause of anger in the spiritualist"s view is anticipated pleasure from sensual objects.

Dhyaayato vishayaan pumsah sangas teshupajaayate;
Sangaat sanjaayate kaamah kaamaat krodho"bhijaayate

When a man thinks of such objects, attachment to them arises; from attachment desire is born; from desire anger arises.

Desires of all kinds are really promises of gratification of one sense or other. Whether desire is for material, mental or even intellectual objects, all feed the senses in one form or other.

What do we learn from it? The moment we allow ourselves to be a slave to sensual gratification we open the door for anger. Therefore the remedy is in being masters of our emotions and not letting emotions to be masters.

How do we do it? By understanding the nature of all desires. Animals can not control it. But human beings endowed with intellect can quickly see that every desire may give temporary pleasure but ultimately has an end and leaves you craving for more. When you do not get more you get angry.

But then , all emotions whether they are good or bad, noble or evil, they all come naturally depending upon our nature. The golden rule is, noble and good feelings come naturally to a person who is endowed with knowledge. Knowledge of things is the key. Bad and evil emotions cling to a person as long as he is enveloped in ignorance. That is why our attempt should always be search of knowledge- the true knowledge - and thereby remould our nature so that good emotions become our habit. Spiritual sadhana is the means to acquire that knowledge.

It takes long practice to master anger. Even our great seers were also victims of anger at times. But by sheer practice the control over emotions has been possible for many and so is possible for all of us. By practice you can let a alarm bell trigger off everytime you feel anger starts swelling up inside.

Constant Bramha chintan (thoughts of the Lord who guides every action and thought of ours) has a direct effect on predominance of positive emotions over negative and is a very practical remedy for emotion control. Relate every activity and happening around you in home, office, market place, somehow to the Lord. Believe sincerely that everything, whether pleasant or unpleasant has a divine purpose. Negative emotions will remain at a distance.

Is it at all possible to root out anger and negativity? That is the ultimate objectivity, fulfilment or Siddhi. People have done it and so can we. Ofcourse that comes after arduous effort. So what? If our efforts continuously lessen the burden of negativity and increase positivity, and thereby make our lives that much richer is not the effort worth? As long as we move towards a better and better existence we truly do justice to our human birth. Yoga sadhana is all about that.

(P.S. One spiritual practitioner I knew had this simple tip. He had conditioned himself such that the moment he used feel a pinch of anger inside him he used to utter "HariOm.". It was almost involuntary. That was his signal and he used to keep mum until no more angry)

Question 4 from Ms Deepika Hemmige Sitaram Iyengar

Could you tell me what is the adherence to be followed in one"s quest to be spiritual?


As I understand it , the question calls for as to how one should prepare oneself for his or her spiritual quest. In this context a couple of articles titled "PREPARATIONS FOR SADHANA" are soon to appear in the forthcoming issues of AHWAN. These are recommended for reading.

Author Bio :
From Ahwanm the spiritual approach to life by Sri Bimal Mohanty.

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Attempts to describe Bramhan - Part 4
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