India

Ganesh: remover of obstacles

Ganesh (also Ganesha or Ganapati) is a very important God in the Hindu Religion. He is the patron of intellectuals, students and authors, as well as travelers, bankers, and anyone starting a new project or adventure. You can ask Ganesh to remove obstacles on your path that are not serving your highest good.

Gansh with Shiva and Parvati

There are many different stories about Ganesh, here is a little taste of what I’ve learned. We will start with the God Shiva, and his wife, the Goddess Parvati. Shiva had a devoted follower, a bull called Nandi. When Parvati went to take a bath one day, she asked Nandi to guard the door and not to let anyone in, especially her husband Shiva, who had a habit of barging in on her.

But, when Shiva came to call, Nandi let him right in because he was so devoted to Shiva. Parvati wanted a companion that was loyal to her above Shiva, so she decided to make one. While bathing, she used tumeric to clean her skin. She used the tumeric paste from her body to mold a baby boy, and she breathed life into the boy. She had the boy stand guard for her. When Shiva returned home for the day, he was surprised to find a boy he never met before, claiming to be Parvati’s son and refusing to let him in! He gets pretty upset about this, and he cuts the boy’s head off.

Well, Parvati was pretty outraged when she found out, and she cried to Shiva, demanding he make this right. Shiva basically replaces the head with an elephant’s head and breathes life into the boy again. There’s a bit more to it than that, but you get the idea.

You’ll see Ganesh depicted with one broken tusk, and there are many stories as to how his tusk was damaged. Some say it was cut off when Shiva chopped off the elephant head. Another says he broke it off himself to use it as a writing instrument. He has a fondness for sweets; he’s often shown using his trunk to eat a hand full of modak, creamy sweet dumplings. This is why he has a bit of a belly.

Ganesh is very special. He has dominion over all classes of beings, ranging from insects, animals and humans to the subtle and celestial beings. During my tour of India, our teacher led us in a Ganesh gayatri mantra every morning on the bus. I pictured Ganesh’s big trunk moving traffic and obstacles out of our path as we drove along.

Ganesh Gayatri

Here’s a good rendition of the mantra on youtube!

It goes:

  • Om Ekdantaya Vidmahe
  • Vakratundaya Dheemahi
  • Tanno Dantih Prachodayat

It means:

  • We pray to the one with the single-tusked elephant tooth who is omnipresent. 
  • We meditate upon and pray for greater intellect to the Lord with the curved, elephant-shaped trunk. 
  • We bow before the one with the single-tusked elephant tooth to illuminate our minds with wisdom.

Traveling through India, Ganesh is everywhere you look! I picked up a small trinket of his to put on the dashboard of my car, so he can clear my way as I drive around little Rhode Island. If you want to learn more about Ganesh, I shared some sources below that you can check out. May Ganesh bring you inner peace and wisdom!

Sources:

Encyclopedia Britannica: Ganesha

Ancient History Encyclopedia: Ganesha

India Today: 4 Stories About Lord Ganesha you Probably Didn’t Know

Lord Ganesha: his birth story, symbolism meaning and practice

Amma: Lord Ganesha: his birth story, symbolism meaning and practice

Ganesh Gayatri Mantra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkVlpm1mKFI

India

The light on the meaning of inner wisdom

 

Sant Dnyaneshwar
source: hindupedia.com

Sant Dnyaneshwar was a philosopher and an influential poet who is considered the greatest Saint of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra, India. He wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita in Marati, the vernacular language of the common people. At this time during the 13th century, religious scripts were written more formally in sanskrit. Dnyaneshwar’s teachings were lyrical poems that were easy to recite and sing. The lessons were easier to remember. This is why he is often described as, “the light on the meaning of inner wisdom.”

His work, Dnyaneshwari, gave simple lessons for everyday life and did not discriminate against wealth or caste. Some say his poems are more like lullabies. He was devoted to Lord Vitthal, a Hindu deity. He wrote with an emphasis on yoga, a belief in the oneness of Vishnu and Shiva, and non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta philosophy. 

At this time in history, yoga was more about mediation than the movements we know today. Dnyaneshwar gave us one of the first written accounts of proper yoga practice. A yogi has to be disciplined and  hold the mind in a place of solitude. You must practice having a controlled mind. He writes, “make the mind one-pointed.” Let go of expectations. Give the body a clean area and a firm seat. It’s also important to have good posture; a proper mudra.

Advaita Vedanta is a philosophy or a spiritual pathway more so than a religion, based on the idea that the self is the same as the highest metaphysical reality. You can strive for spiritual liberation through knowledge in this life.

At the young age of twenty one, having completed his life’s work, he took samadhi, eternal mediation. He closed himself off from the world and meditated for hundreds of years. It is said that 400 years later, a saint as visited by Dnyashwar in a dream, saying that something was bothering him. The saint broke into his tomb to find a tree root growing through his neck. According to the story, his body was not breathing but it was still warm to the touch.

There is so much more to the story of Dnyaneshwar, and I’m afraid this is an oversimplification. If you want to learn more about Dnyashwar, his work is available in English and here is a link to a biography.

On my tour of Maharashtra, we stopped at a Temple of Dnyaneshwar on our route from Shirdi to Arangabad. A peaceful and serene place. Removing my shoes on the dusty earth, I left them behind as I climbed the steps into the cool tiled temple floor in a large room with peach walls.

I received darshan, a view of the holy image of the deity in the temple, bowing with respect. I was blessed with ashes on the third eye, the eye of wisdom, my forehead. In front of me were two young girls dressed in gorgeous sarees, and making offerings. I was grateful for the opportunity to follow their lead.

 

Through the back of the temple was a great bronzed statue of Dnyashwar reciting his teachings, and his scribe writing down his words. 

Later in the trip, we visited another Dnyaneshwar site, Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Samadhi Mandir in Alandi, a  holy place near Pune.

 

I dipped my feet in the blessed waters of the Indrayani river. This beloved river is associated with Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram who might be getting his own blog post in the future. 

I dipped my malas in the water for good luck. I noticed a woman behind me, preparing flesh flower offerings and I purchased one from her. Marigolds and herbs placed in a tin foil dish. A wad of cotton is burning in the middle.

I set an intention and pushed it into the water, but it didn’t move very far. Some young boys swimming in the river pushed it into the current for me, and I watched it drift away until I couldn’t make it out on the horizon any longer. The flame among the flowers was still burning like a light on my own inner wisdom.

India

Radiant Knowledge: Yoga in India

Come on a spiritual journey with me.

I just got home from an adventure in Maharashtra, India that has inspired me to commit to two very simple New Year Resolutions. 

  1. More Yoga
  2. More Writing

What better place to start than sharing some lessons and experiences from beautiful India? Come along with me. I’m not going to give you a chronological retelling of the trip. Instead I’d just like to document some pretty cool stuff in any old way that seems right. I’ve neglected my blog for far too long.

Let’s visit the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute, the first Yoga College in the world. They conduct scientific research; they have wellness centers and classes, including online classes.

It was founded by Swami Kuvalayananda, a scholar who was an advocate for the scientific study of Hatha yoga. He was lead by his teacher, Paramahamsa Madhavdasji, who “blessed Kuvalayananda with insights into advanced yogic discipline.” Even though Kuvalayananda was spiritual and a bit idealistic, he was also a rational person; he became dedicated to studying the science behind yoga. In his lifetime, he met the Dalai Lama and Gandhi. 

Swami Kuvalayananda
“I have brought up this institute out of nothing. If it goes to nothing, I do not mind, ​but Yoga should not be diluted.” ~Swami Kuvalayananda

The Yoga Institute is peaceful and humble, with some very special details, like the three headed cobra fountain sitting in the main square. We got to take a Hatha Yoga class inside one of the classrooms. Along the room were enclosed shelves with handwritten yoga manuscripts. I imagined I was gazing at the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, I had just learned about a 15th century handwritten yoga manual written in Sanskrit. The text was a compilation of even older handwritten texts that were likely disintegrating. Our guide Hareesh explained that these texts were written on biodegradable materials and were often lost or eaten by insects. So, scholars would rewrite the texts, sometimes compiling a few into one, and sometimes making mistakes or omitting important parts.

We settled on to our mats for a relaxing yoga class. Hatha Yoga highly influenced the type of yoga that we are familiar with in the US. It is a set of asanas, or poses that are strung together into a flow with the breath. In Indian culture, yoga is much more. It integrates ethics, ayurvedic diet, pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation for the health of the spiritual and physical body.

The class starts with a mantra, which is like a prayer:

Om Saha Nau-Avatu | Saha Nau Bhunaktu |

Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai | Tejasvi Nau-Adhiitam-Astu Maa Vidvissaavahai |

Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

Sanskrit:

ॐ सह नाववतु । सह नौ भुनक्तु ।

सह वीर्यं करवावहै । तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Literal translation:

Aum! 

May we (both) be protected; may we (both) be nourished;

May we work together with great energy, May our knowledge be radiant;

May there be no differences or disputes between us

Om, peace (inside), peace (around), peace (between)

Source

How profound, and how simple. After class we got a walking tour of the campus, which is more like an oasis of exotic plants and serene vibes. We also enjoyed a healthy, traditional Indian lunch. 

If you want to learn more about Kuvalayananda and Hatha yoga, there is alot of information on their website.

May your knowledge be radiant!