Drawing Close to Ganesha
How sincerely approaching Him as a real being can deepen your relationship with the Lord of Obstacles
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Hinduism in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist nation, has been the subject of many articles in Hindusm Today magazine over the years. To many people’s surprise, the country has a number of Hindu temples, including a large and ornate Ganesha shrine right in the middle of Bangkok’s financial district. Our journalist asked several Thais why so many in the country worship regularly at Hindu temples. The common answer was, “The worship of Buddha helps us in a purely spiritual way, whereas worshiping the Hindu Gods helps in our daily life.”
My Gurudeva, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, stressed this same idea: “Among all the wonderful Hindu Deities, Lord Ganesha is the closest to the material plane of consciousness, most easily contacted and most able to assist us in our day-to-day life and concerns. Worship of Lord Ganesha leads the devotee most naturally to the other great Gods.…Lord Ganesha is a Mahadeva, a Great God, created by Lord Siva to assist souls in their evolution. He is the elephant-faced Patron of Art and Science, the Lord of Obstacles and Guardian of Dharma, the first son of Siva. His will prevails as the force of righteousness, the embodiment of Siva’s karmic law in all three worlds.”
Many great saints and sages of Hinduism have had visions of Lord Ganesha and shared them with their devotees, thus strengthening their faith in the Gods of Hinduism and expanding their understanding.
In ancient times Auvaiyar, a Tamil mystic who had visions of Ganesha, shared her experiences in devotional poetry. In “Vinayaga Ahaval” she wrote, “Desiring to make me Yours this instant, You, like a mother, have appeared before me and cut the delusion of unending births.”
In modern times, Gurudeva shared his mystical perspectives and experiences of Ganesha in a book called Loving Ganesha: “There are a great many liberal Hindus and/or Western-influenced Hindus who don’t think of Ganesha as a real being. To them He is a symbol, a superstition, a way of explaining philosophy to children and the uneducated. But this has not been my experience of our loving Lord. I have seen Him with my own eye. He has come to me in visions several times and convinced my lower mind of His reality.”
Since 1969 we have arranged group pilgrimages to India, where traveling seekers have had life-changing visions of Lord Ganesha and other Deities. Such visions, born of the intensity of pilgrimage and inner striving, would often come in the form of the stone or bronze murti moving and smiling at them, or becoming an animated, human-like figure. With eyes closed, some devotees inwardly saw the Deity’s face, as real as any living being.
Though not many have such powerful visions, in the year 1995 hundreds of thousands of Hindus experienced firsthand the widely publicized milk miracle in temples around the world. They watched as devotees offered milk to murtis of Lord Ganesha, who actually drank the milk. The remarkable happening was recorded by video cameras and well documented in world media. This increased many people’s faith in the reality of Lord Ganesha.
In his many inspired talks to large crowds in South India’s ancient temples, Gurudeva explained that the stone or metal Deity images are not mere symbols of the Gods; they are the form through which their love, power and blessings flood forth into this world. Knowing that the Gods are real beings and that the purpose of going to the temple is to experience their blessings transforms the temple from a cultural hall to a truly sacred place for the devotee. Some readers may wonder what I mean by saying that Lord Ganesha and the other Gods are real beings. If they are real, where do they live? To answer that question, let’s provide some background. Hindu scripture speaks of three worlds of existence: the physical plane, the subtle or astral plane, and the causal plane.
A global God: Lord Ganesha embodied in an elegant life-like statue gracing the town of Kuta, Bali, Indonesia. The golden writing on His trunk includes the Sanskrit Aum.
The physical plane is the world we perceive with our five senses, the realm of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. Of the three worlds, this is the most limited, the least permanent and the most subject to change. Within the physical plane exists the subtle or astral plane, the mental-emotional sphere. We function in this realm through thought and feeling and reside there fully during sleep and after death. There, in our astral body, we meet other souls who are sleeping or have died and do not have a physical body. We function constantly in this in-between world by our every thought and emotion.
Deep within the astral plane exists the causal plane—the world of light and blessedness, the highest of heavenly regions, extolled in the scriptures of all faiths. This is the superconscious world, where the Gods and highly evolved souls abide. It is this world that we seek to access through deep meditation and through temple worship, which opens a channel for the Gods’ blessings. This most refined realm is not distant. It exists within us as the abode of our divine Self, our pure immortal soul being.
My Gurudeva often said that religion is the working together of the three worlds. In a sanctified temple, we can readily experience the Gods and devas as an uplifting, peaceful, divine energy, or shakti, radiating out through the murti from the causal plane. It is easiest to feel these blessings at the high point of the puja, when the flame is held before the Deity, or after the puja, in a quiet moment of reflection. The shakti of Lord Ganesha is a gentle, soothing force. Even a subtle encounter with the Lord of Obstacles has the power to bring us into the secure consciousness of the muladhara chakra, the force center of memory where Ganesha resides. This blessing keeps us above the lower seven chakras, home of the base emotions such as jealousy, fear and anger.
There is a Tamil saying, “Ganesha is my support,” “Ganapati tunai,” which conveys the idea that Lord Ganesha looks after us and influences everything in our life for the better. You can develop a close relationship with Lord Ganesha, in which He feels like a good friend, if you take the time to get to know Him through bhakti yoga, the practice of devotional disciplines, worship, prayer, chanting and singing with the aim of awakening love in the heart and opening yourself to the Deity’s grace.
The 2,200-year-old South Indian scripture Tirumantiram declares, “Five-armed is He, elephant-faced, with tusks protruding, crescent-shaped, son of Siva, wisdom’s flower; in heart enshrined, His feet I praise.”