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EEKERS ASK: “WHO AM I AND WHERE DID I COME FROM?” THEY inwardly know they are more than just another person with a particular name who was born in a certain place. They sense that they are more than their body, mind and emotions. They want to understand, “Did I exist before I was born? Will I exist after death?” The answer given in Saivite Hinduism is that we are each a divine soul on a wondrous journey. We are an immortal body of light that has lived many lives, had many bodies and personalities. Gurudeva explained, “When the soul has had enough experience, it naturally seeks to be liberated, to unravel the bonds. That begins the most wonderful process in the world as the seeker steps for the first time onto the spiritual path. Of course, the whole time, through all those births and lives and deaths, the soul was undergoing a spiritual evolution, but unconsciously. Now it seeks to know God consciously.” Our soul was created by God Siva out of Himself, like sparks flying forth from a fire. Like the sparks and the fire, we are both the same and different from Siva, our source. We live within His boundless creation, this unthinkably vast cosmos which is filled with His divine presence. Siva is the life energy in the birds, in the fish and in the animals. His being flows through all we see and experience. Our Vedic rishis have assured us that “God is the Life of our life.” We are all beautiful children of God Siva. Deep within, we are one with Him this very moment. We came from God, live in God and are evolving into complete unity with God. Siva created each of us in a perfect state, but we have to discover that perfection within us to be whole. By seeing the life energy in all creatures and in all people, we are seeing God Siva in action. By drawing close to God, we draw nearer to our immortal soul. Siva is all and within all.
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NOWING GOD IS LIFE’S HIGHEST GOAL, REACHED BY MATURE souls following a spiritual path. Just as only the most highly disciplined climbers reach the summit of Mount Everest each year, only a few mature souls reach life’s highest peak in this life. That is because souls were not created all at once. There are old souls and young souls. Older souls have matured over many lifetimes. They have enjoyed life’s pleasures, suffered all the many sorrows and faced countless challenges. This process has made them strong, like the mountaineers, and ready for the final ascent, ready to become one with God Siva. As we mature, we become kind, generous, understanding and truthful. Anger, fear and jealousy no longer control us as they once did. We become wise and loving. Reaching this maturity moves us toward life’s true purpose. Eventually we no longer need the experiences of Earth, so we do not need to be reborn. Instead, we continue to evolve and serve humanity in the heavenly worlds in our subtle body. This graduation from the cycle of reincarnation is called moksha, which means freedom, release or liberation. But before we attain moksha, we must experience the highest goal of raja yoga—the realization of the Self, God. After Self Realization, you no longer see yourself as just someone from some place. Instead, when you look inward, you see Siva. When you look at other people, you see Siva. All souls will achieve moksha, but only a few will do so in this lifetime. Hindus know this and do not think that this life is the last. While seeking to perfect themselves through service, worship and yoga, they know there is also much progress to be made in fulfilling life’s other three goals: righteousness, wealth and enjoyment. Even moksha is not the end of our path. After liberation from rebirth, the soul body continues to evolve in the inner worlds until it fully merges with God. Jiva (the soul) becomes Siva, a union called vishvagrasa. Being on an ancient path followed by countless souls gives the serene feeling that everything is all right as it is, that everything is perfect.
INDUISM IS THE ANCIENT RELIGION OF INDIA, PRACTICED TODAY by one billion people all over the world. With no founder and stretching back unknown thousands of years in India’s earliest known civilizations, Hinduism is called Sanatana Dharma, the “eternal faith.” It is based on the Vedas and other scriptures. Four beliefs are most central. First is belief in one Supreme God who created the universe, and who abides everywhere within it. He/She is all and in all. Second is belief in the law of karma, the principle of cause and effect, action and reaction. Third is belief that the cosmos is governed by the principle of dharma, which is divine order, righteousness and duty. Fourth, Hindus believe in reincarnation, the natural process of birth, death and rebirth. While these four convictions are essential, in Hinduism belief alone is not enough to propel us forward on the path. It is our actions and behavior that are the keys to spiritual progress. Hindus seek to experience God and their inner self through temple worship, meditation, yoga, pilgrimage and devotional singing. They enjoy a rich family life and ageless traditions of culture. They honor gurus, saints and sages. They worship many Gods, who are grand helpers to the Supreme Being. The three pillars of Sanatana Dharma are its scriptures, temples and gurus. Today Hinduism is like a great banyan tree, whose limbs represent the many variations of this ancient faith. The four main branches, or denominations, are Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism. Each has a multitude of guru lineages, religious leaders, priesthoods, sacred literature, monastic communities, schools, pilgrimage centers and tens of thousands of temples. Since Hinduism has no one central authority, these are like four independent religions sharing a vast common heritage of history, culture and belief.
AIVISM IS THE WORLD’S OLDEST RELIGION. WORSHIPING GOD SIVA, the compassionate One, it stresses potent disciplines, high philosophy, the guru’s centrality and the path of bhakti and raja yoga, leading to oneness with Siva within. Saivism is ancient, truly ageless, for it has no beginning. It is the precursor of the many-faceted religion now termed Hinduism. Scholars trace the roots of Siva worship back more than 8,000 years to the advanced Indus Valley civilization. But sacred writings tell us there never was a time when Saivism did not exist. There are six schools of philosophy and tradition within Saivism: Saiva Siddhanta, Kashmir Saivism, Pashupata Saivism, Vira Saivism, Siva Advaita and Siddha Siddhanta. They differ in many ways, philosophically, historically, linguistically and geographically. Still, they share an overwhelming similarity of belief and practice. In addition to the Vedas, the Saiva Agamas are the shared scriptures of all six schools. All six identify Siva as the Supreme Lord, both immanent and transcendent, worshiped as the personal Lord and realized through meditation as the Absolute, Parasiva, beyond all form. All hold these principal Agamic doctrines: 1) the five powers of Siva (creation, preservation, destruction, concealing and revealing grace); 2) the three primary elements of existence, Pati, pashu and pasha (God, souls and bonds); 3) the three bonds, or malas (anava, karma and maya); 4) the threefold energy of Siva—iccha, kriya and jnana shakti (love, action and wisdom); 5) the thirty-six tattvas, or categories of existence; 6) the need for a satguru and initiation; 7) the power of mantra; and 8) the four padas or stages of spirituality, charya, kriya, yoga and jnana (service, devotion, union and wisdom).
ERFECTION IS THE WORD GURUDEVA USED TO DESCRIBE GOD Siva’s three flawless aspects: Absolute Reality, the Divine Mind and the Primal Soul. Gurudeva described the One Being of Siva in this way to help devotees better understand the totality of His being and to tune into each perfection in worship and meditation. The three perfections also apply to each of us, as God Siva naturally creates souls in His image and likeness. The first perfection, Absolute Reality, Parasiva, is our inmost essence, the Self God. What is the Self God? Gurudeva explained, “It is That which is beyond the mind, beyond thought, feeling and emotion, beyond time, form and space.” The second perfection, Siva’s vast, Divine Mind, known as Satchidananda or Parashakti, is our own superconscious mind. It radiates as divine light, love, energy and knowing. When we touch into that level of our being, we become aware of the pure consciousness flowing through all things. Our sense of I-ness dissolves and we experience unlimited love and bliss. Siva’s third perfection, the uncreated Primal Soul, Parameshvara, is the fullness of God, ruler of the universe, creator of our soul and all that exists. To love God is to know God. To know God is to feel His love for you. Parameshvara’s resplendent body may be seen in mystic vision. It is the ultimate prototype of our own soul body, which is like the Primal Soul, but less brilliant, because it is not yet mature. The Primal Soul, God’s personal aspect as Lord and Creator, is depicted in many forms: Nataraja by Saivites, Vishnu by Vaishnavites, Devi by Shaktas. To understand Siva’s three perfections, think of a perfect mango. It has a skin, sweet fruit and a seed. Yet it is a one fruit. The skin is Siva’s body, the fruit is His Divine Mind and the seed is His inmost essence and being.
HERE ARE THREE WORLDS OF EXISTENCE. THE FIRST WORLD IS THE physical universe, the gross plane, called Bhuloka. This is the world we see with our eyes and touch with our hands. It is the material world, where we have our experiences, create karma and fulfill the desires and duties of life in a physical body. The Second World is the subtle or astral plane, the in-between realm called Antarloka. This world exists within the physical plane. As our thoughts and feelings are part of that inner world, we are functioning in the astral world even while we are awake. During sleep, we leave our physical body and are aware in that inner world fully. Besides dreaming, we may also attend inner-plane classes held by our satguru. The Antarloka has many levels, spanning the spectrum of consciousness from the hellish Naraka regions, where the asuras, demonic beings, dwell, to the highest region of the Devaloka where the devas, or angels, live. When our physical body dies, we live fully in the Antarloka in our subtle body. The Third World is the causal plane, the world of light and blessedness, called Sivaloka. This highest plane is the home of God Siva and of the Gods who assist Him, such as Lord Ganesha and Lord Murugan. It is also the home of highly advanced souls who exist in their brilliant soul form. We experience the Sivaloka when we see the inner light or have a flash of intuition. We can worship God and the Gods anywhere. But the temple is the best place, because it is built as a special, sacred space where the three worlds meet as one. When we are awake, we normally don’t see or sense the inner worlds. The temple enables us to feel the presence of God, Gods and devas, just as night-vision goggles allow us to see in the dark. In our form of worship, called puja, we chant, burn incense, ring bells and offer lights and flowers. This ritual brings us close to God and the great beings of our faith.
LL SOULS ARE ESSENTIALLY GOOD, FOR THEIR INNER NATURE IS divine. Each soul is created by God Siva from Himself. Siva’s nature is pure love. So, goodness, compassion, understanding and joy are natural qualities of the soul. Wisdom and pure knowledge are the intrinsic nature of the soul. The world, too, is God’s flawless creation. All is in perfect order and balance. Since God is everywhere and in all things, there can be no place for evil. Evil is often looked upon as a force against God. But we know that all forces are God’s forces, even mean, hurtful actions. This is sometimes difficult to understand when we see the pains and problems caused by people against each other. Looking deeper, we see that what is called evil has its own purpose in life. Yes, bad things do happen. Still, the wise never blame God, for they know such things are the return of our self-created karmas, tough lessons that help us learn and mature. The nature of the world is duality. It contains each thing and its opposite: joy and sorrow, goodness and evil, love and hate. Suffering cannot be totally avoided. It is a natural part of human life that causes much spiritual growth for the soul. Knowing this, the wise accept suffering from any source, be it hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, famine, wars, disease or personal tragedies. Suffering offers us the important realization that true happiness and freedom cannot be found in the world, for earthly joy is bound to sorrow. Having learned this, devotees seek a satguru who teaches them to overcome suffering through understanding and acceptance. The world is the bountiful creation of a benevolent God, who means for us to live positively in it, facing karma and fulfilling dharma. We must not despise or fear the world. Life is meant to be lived joyously.
OD SIVA CREATES THE COSMOS AND HE RESIDES WITHIN IT. HIS many special laws or systems are at work within our complex universe. The law that causes an object to fall to the Earth we call gravity. The law that governs the reaction of thoughts, words and deeds we call karma. It is an automatic system of divine justice. By this law, what we sow, we will reap. Actions and the fruit of action are both called karma. There are three kinds of karma: the karma of all deeds done in our past lives; the karmas we bring into this birth to experience; and the karmas we are making by our actions now. Good, helpful thoughts, words and deeds bring good karma to us in the future. Hurtful actions bring back to us painful karma. Doing bad is like planting poison ivy. Doing good is like planting delicious mangos. Understanding the law of karma gives us the power to act wisely and create a positive future. Gurudeva said, “You are the writer of your own destiny, the master of your ship through life.” He meant that karma is not fate. It can be overcome. Through understanding the effect of their actions, individuals sooner or later learn to refrain from committing misdeeds. This is what we mean by saying, “Karma is our teacher.” It teaches us to refine our behavior. Even difficult karma helps us grow, by teaching us the painful results of unwise actions. No matter how well we understand karma, facing it bravely is still a challenge. Our ego gets in the way. Our emotions are stirred and we react without thinking. Such weakness can be overcome by perfecting our character according to the yamas and niyamas. The effects of karma can be softened in several ways: by accepting and not reacting, by doing penance, by performing good deeds that balance the not-so-good we have done and by seeking the grace of God and guru. Karma applies not only to individuals but to groups, communities and nations.
EINCARNATION IS THE CYCLE OF BIRTH, DEATH AND REBIRTH. Each soul has many lifetimes on Earth. In each life, we drop off our physical body at death, but our inner self, or soul, never dies. We just leave our physical body and go on thinking, feeling and acting in our astral body. We also do this when we sleep, but we return to our body each time we wake up. At death we don’t come back into our physical body. We leave the physical plane and remain conscious in the inner worlds. After some time, we are born again as a baby in a new physical body, with a new mother and father, a new name and a new future. This return to the physical plane in a new body is called reincarnation. Memories of our previous lifetimes fade away during childhood, though some adults can remember them. We eventually die again, because of illness, old age or an accident. Again we step out of the physical body and go on living in our astral body. This happens repeatedly. Sometimes we are born as a boy, sometimes as a girl. The way we live in this life determines what our next life will be like. Reincarnation is like a great school, and each life is a classroom. Who is learning and growing in the school of life? You, your immortal soul. You have lived many lives. Each lifetime is but one stride on the great journey of your soul. When all the needed lessons have been learned, your soul has matured, all karmas have been resolved and you have realized God, you will not need to be born again. That is called liberation or moksha, the destiny of all souls, without exception.
HERE ARE THREE DIMENSIONS TO OUR BEING: PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL/intellectual and spiritual. All three need attention for optimum health. Exercise strengthens our physical body. Learning and practicing self control expands and enhances our emotional/mental capacity. Through sadhana, spiritual practice, we exercise our spiritual nature by taking time to experience it. Most of the time we are so wrapped up in our outer nature that we are hardly aware of our deep, glorious inner reality. This can go on life after life, as many people only begin to think of greater realities when nearing the point of death. We give time to our spiritual nature by performing religious activities, ideally as a daily vigil or spiritual exercise. During this quiet time alone we focus on life’s inner purpose, which is to make spiritual progress. Puja, japa, scriptural study, hatha yoga and meditation are all forms of sadhana. Some sadhanas are yearly, such as going on pilgrimage. Some may be assigned by the guru as a one-time practice. A popular sadhana is chanting “AUM” 108 times each day. The ten-minute spiritual workout is becoming popular in today’s busy world. These times of quiet retreat from life’s hustle and bustle are underrated, their benefits overlooked. Sadhana builds willpower, faith and confidence in oneself and in God, Gods and guru. It harnesses our instinctive-intellectual nature, allowing unfoldment into the superconscious realizations and innate abilities of the soul. Gurudeva noted: “Through sadhana we learn to control the energies of the body and nerve system, and we experience that through the control of the breath the mind becomes peaceful. Sadhana is practiced in the home, in the forest, by a flowing river, under a favorite tree, in the temple, in gurukulas or wherever a pure, serene atmosphere can be found.” Yogaswami directed his devotees to follow the sadhana marga, the path of religious effort, all through life.
UR BASIC BELIEFS AS SAIVITE HINDUS NATURALLY INSPIRE US TO practice ahimsa, or noninjury. Because we see God everywhere, we feel a deep closeness and affection for all beings. We would never want to hurt that which we love and revere. Knowing that God is in every person, every creature, every thing bestows an attitude of sublime tolerance and acceptance. We reject the idea that some people are evil and deserve to be treated badly. People do act in evil ways, but deep inside they are all divine beings; they are experiencing a difficult part of their evolutionary path. The second belief behind ahimsa is the law of karma. We know that any hurt we cause others will one day return to us. Being aware of this basic principle, we wholeheartedly practice ahimsa—refraining not only from causing physical harm or violence, but also from hurting others with our words and our thoughts. Such gentleness gives rise to respect, courtesy and appreciation for others. Noninjury is the product of spiritual consciousness. Hurtfulness arises from lower, instinctive consciousness—fear, anger, greed, jealousy and hate. It is based in the mentality of separateness—of good and bad, mine and yours. We never retaliate. It is wiser to accept the hurt as self-created karma and respond with understanding and forgiveness; to retaliate would only perpetuate that karma. However, ahimsa does not mean pacifism. We may defend ourself to protect our life or the life of another or turn to the police, who are authorized to use force. And we support our country’s use of military force to safeguard its citizens. Ahimsa is also a powerful tool for changing and improving society and government. Gandhi proved this with his civil disobedience movement, which freed India without resorting to fights or force. Ahimsa is called the mahavrata, the great vow. Among all the yamas and niyamas, it is the most important virtue.
HE HINDU TRADITION UNDERSTANDS THAT MAN IS NOT SEPARATE from nature, that we are linked by spiritual, psychological and physical bonds with the elements around us. Knowing that the Divine is present everywhere and in all things, Hindus hold a deep reverence for life. We hold an awareness that the great forces of nature—the earth, the water, the fire, the air and space—as well as all the various orders of life, including plants and trees, forests and animals, are bound to each other within life’s cosmic web. Our beloved Earth, so touchingly looked upon in our scriptures as Bhumi Devi, the Earth Goddess, has nurtured mankind through millions of years of growth and evolution. However, the Earth’s large population, its industries, automobiles and lifestyle are causing significant damage to the environment. As one sixth of the human family, Hindus can have a tremendous impact. We should take the lead in Earth-friendly living, personal frugality, lower power consumption, alternative energy, sustainable food production and vegetarianism. All of Earth’s diversity is to be cared for, from the soil, water and air to the plants and animals of every shape and kind. To achieve this, we practice restraint in the use of Earth’s resources. We do not exploit its minerals, water, fuels or soil. We avoid polluting our blue planet. We work to protect the many endangered plants and animals. We do not buy or use products from exploited species, such as furs, ivory or reptile skin. We recycle paper, glass, metal and plastic and use efficient means of transportation that save on energy. We plant trees and do not waste food. In these ways we express the fundamental Hindu reverence for the Earth and all life upon it.
ARMA YOGA IS SELFLESS SERVICE, OR SEVA. IT OFTEN TAKES THE form of volunteer work at a temple—helping with the basic needs and events, like polishing the brass lamps, answering the phone, making garlands and preparing for pujas. This humble service helps establish good character. The effort to do good deeds can be extended into other areas as well, such as the workplace and the home, quietly and willingly helping others, without complaint and without expecting thanks. Such service reaps hidden blessings. In its broadest sense, karma yoga is spiritualized action. It is doing each and every task consciously, selflessly, excellently, as an offering to the Divine. Satguru Yogaswami advised devotees, “Whatever work you have to do, do it well. That in itself is yoga.” Work done in this spirit is a form of worship. Doing our ordinary daily duties becomes a powerful sadhana that contributes to our spiritual progress. This yoga makes us more focused, effective and fulfilled. It eliminates the false separation of secular work from religious practice. Swami Vivekananda counseled, “When you are doing any work, do not think of anything beyond. Do it as worship, as the highest worship, and devote your whole life to it for the time being.” Here are some keys to successfully turning work into worship: 1) Pray to Lord Ganesha before beginning your work. 2) Act selflessly, detached from the results. Focus on serving, helping, giving. 3) Work hard; overcome lethargy, fatigue, confusion and doubt. 4) Maintain harmony with others. 5) Enjoy the effort; don’t feel rushed. 6) Make the work a worthy offering, completing it as perfectly as you can. Then stop, review what you have done and make it even better.
OD SIVA AND THE GODS ARE ALWAYS WITH US, CLOSER THAN breathing, nearer than hands and feet. Praying is our way of communicating with them. To offer a prayer, visualize the face of God Siva or a God, concentrate and say your prayer mentally, sending it up through the top of your head. You can pray anywhere, but the inner-world beings can best hear you in a sacred temple or your home shrine. One of the greatest prayers of all is giving thanks for all the gifts Siva has provided in our life. Most often, though, devotees pray for help. The Gods will respond. Most simply, they send a blessing to quiet your mind and clear your aura. Sometimes this is all that’s needed. Suppose you pray to Lord Ganesha for help with your studies. After the blessing from the Mahadeva, the subject matter seems clear and interesting. You absorb it easily and do better on your tests. Answering some prayers may require assigning a deva to determine the best way to assist you. It is comforting to know that the Gods, their devas and your own guardian devas are ever ready to respond to your requests for help and guidance. You gain this boon by living a religious life and being consistent in your sadhana. Some temples, such as Kadavul Temple in Hawaii, accept written prayers from devotees. When burned, these are released to their astral form in the Devaloka for the devas to read and act upon. Before asking for help, we make every effort to use our own intelligence and strength. In our prayers we always remember that God and the Gods know the highest course for our life. They know better than we do the lessons and experiences we need to improve. Our prayers will be answered, and in wisdom we accept the answer—even if it is not what we had hoped for.