The Upanishads are clear, man is not man, man is God. But actually encountering that amazing reality takes work.
By Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami
The concept that sacredness resides within each human being is foreign to many individuals, as the dominant activities in their experience are base emotions, such as anger and jealousy, and a confused intellect. Clearly, there is a lot going on within us that is not of a divine, or rarified, nature. However, just as the intellect is a higher state of mind than coarse emotions, there is a part of us that is a higher state than the intellect. It is called by many names, among them intuition, superconsciousness, soul and atma. Thus there are three aspects to our nature: physical/emotional, intellectual or mental and superconscious or spiritual.
My guru, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, describes them in this way: “When the outer, or lower, instinctive nature dominates, one is prone to anger, fear, greed, jealousy, hatred and backbiting. When the intellect is prominent, arrogance and analytical thinking preside. When the superconscious soul comes forth, the refined qualities are born—compassion, insight, modesty and the others. The animal instincts of the young soul are strong. The intellect, yet to be developed, is nonexistent to control these strong instinctive impulses. When the intellect is developed, the instinctive nature subsides. When the soul unfolds and overshadows the well-developed intellect, this mental harness is loosened and removed.”
Finding Divinity in the Temple
Intellectually accepting that divinity is within us is, of course, only the first step. We need to find a way to actually experience that divinity. The simplest way presents itself when we visit a temple. A sincere devotee can experience divinity in and around the temple’s murtis, the consecrated images of God and Gods. The Sanskrit term for this holy vibration is sannidhya. Learning to experience a temple’s sannidhya may take some time, especially if we have not been raised to be sensitive to the energy that radiates out from a sacred image, or murti.
Gurudeva described this process: “The reality of the Mahadevas and their darshan [blessings] can be experienced by the devotee through his awakened ajna vision, or more often as the physical sight of the image in the sanctum coupled with the inner knowing that He is there within the microcosm. This darshan can be felt by all devotees, becoming stronger and more defined as devotion is perfected.”
Here are three suggestions to help an individual become sensitive enough to experience the sannidhya radiating out from the murti.
1. Bring an offering for each shrine at which you worship. This can be a flower, a flower garland or fruit. The act of giving in this simple way makes you receptive to blessings.
2. Pay particular attention at the high point of the puja, during the arati, when a large lamp is waved before the Deity and bells are rung loudly. The blessings of the Deity are strongest at this time.
3. Sit after puja for five minutes with the murti in view. Absorb the sannidhya emanating from the murti. Be like a sponge soaking up water. For this to work, you need to empty yourself of extraneous thoughts and focus only on the murti.
Sanctifying the Home Shrine
Once you are able to consistently experience the sannidhya in the temple, it is natural to take up the next level of practice. This is to create a sacredness in your home shrine through performing each day a simple puja, such as to Lord Ganesha. Over a period of years, you can learn to invoke a stronger and stronger sanctity in the home shrine which eventually is powerful enough to radiate out to the other rooms in the home.
Seeking the Divine Within Yourself
Experiencing Divinity in the temple and then establishing it in the home shrine provide an excellent foundation for finding divinity within yourself. This can be done through three simple steps.
1. Pranayama: The first step is to regulate your breathing, which is called pranayama. An effective pranayama is to breathe in for nine counts, hold for one count, breathe out for nine counts and hold for one count. This will cause your thoughts to slow down. You will then experience greater alertness as your awareness becomes more subtle and refined.
2. Pratyahara: The next practice, called pratyahara, is to withdraw energy into the spine. On the first in-breath, bring awareness into the left leg, all the way to the toes, and on the out-breath slowly withdraw the energy from that leg into the spine. Repeat with the right leg, left arm (all the way to the fingertips), right arm and finally the torso.
3. Merudanda: The third practice is to feel the spiritual energy within the spine. Gurudeva gives this description: “The third step takes us deeper inside as we become dynamically aware in the spine. Feel the power within the spine, the powerhouse of energy that feeds out to the external nerves and muscles. Visualize the spine in your mind’s eye. See it as a hollow yellow tube or channel through which white life energies flow. Feel it with your inner feeling. See it with your inner eyes. It’s there—subtle and silent, yet totally intense. It is a simple, honest feeling. As you feel this hollow yellow spine filled with white energy, realize that you are more that energy than you are the physical body through which it flows, more that pure clear white energy than the emotions and the thought force. Identify yourself with this cosmic energy of Lord Siva and begin to live your true spiritual heritage on this earth.”Paramaguru Yogaswami expressed the same idea in one of his letters: “You are not the body; you are not the mind, nor the intellect, nor the will. You are the atma. The atma is eternal. This is the conclusion at which great souls have arrived from their experience. Let this truth become well impressed on your mind.”
Seeing God Everywhere
Once we are able to identify as an immortal soul and thus see divinity within ourself, it becomes possible to see it within everyone we meet. One practice to accomplish this is to look deeply into the eyes of another person. Look beyond the personality, go deeper than his or her intellect and see the pure life energy, which is God. This is described by the phrase “God is the Life of your life.” This practice does not need to stop with people but can also include seeing the life energy in trees, birds and animals as God. A verse from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states: “He who knows God as the Life of life, the Eye of the eye, the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, he indeed comprehends fully the Cause of all causes.”
Taking this one step deeper is to see yourself as the Divine in all beings. In other words, you are not looking at another person. You are looking at yourself. This is, of course, God’s point of view, a state of universal or omnipresent consciousness called Satchidananda. When we are in this state, we know that we are all living beings, all of existence. The Mrigendra Agama tells us, “Pure consciousness, taking form as knowledge and action, is present in the soul everywhere and always, for the soul is universal in its unfettered state.”
A japa mala traditionally consists of 108 beads strung on a cord. The beads can be compared to human beings, and the cord to Satchidananda. There is only one cord, and that same cord passes through each bead, connects each bead. Each human being can look within, through introspection, or meditation. When this inner viewing is done deeply enough, they can see the one thread of omnipresent consciousness that pervades everyone, indeed all life and form. Looking deeper, they see they are that thread.
Thus our search to experience the divine takes us step by step from being unaware of the Divine to seeing the Divine in a temple’s murtis, in our home shrine, in ourself, in others and, finally, realizing that we are the Divine within all that is. Paramaguru Yogaswami has said it well: “You will find the attributes of the Divine in man. If you look a little more closely, you will find that man is himself the Divinity….It would not be an overstatement if I say that man is God.”