[Advaita-l] RITUALS - 2 of 2

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Mon Sep 19 13:45:52 EDT 2022

(Continued from previous post.)
Such a pious imaginative feeling, can be had only when WE recite the Mantra and understand it too. What kind of feeling will be aroused when the Purohit
recites the Mantra audibly or inaudibly and we perform only the ACT? It will be just a futile exercise and a waste of water, or Kumkum or flowers.
When this is the case about Mantras, we can imagine the fate of Shlokas or Sahasranamas. The familiar Shloka during "Pradakshina" is a classic example.
We say:
  "Paapoham, paapakarmaham; paapathma paapasambhavaha; thraahi maam kripaya deva, sharanaagata vatsala ."
  (I have committed many sins. I am born as a sinner because of sins committed. Oh God! The protector of people who surrender to you, Kindly protect me.)
It is a heartfelt feeling of surrender. When we understand the Shloka, such a feeling is aroused. Doing a "Pradakshina" is an action to give an outlet to that
feeling of surrender. The feeling of surrender can come only when we understand the meaning, otherwise the tongue repeats the words, the body rotates through
360° and falls down flat. Surrendering to HIM is a very fine feeling, which must arise in the heart and nothing to do with the body. Such a feeling cannot come
by repeating some unintelligible words and falling flat on the ground.
In the Lalitha Sahasranama, we say "Janma-mrityu-jara tapta jana vishraanti daayini" ...(You (Lalitha) grant peace to those, who are struggling with the triple
sufferings of Birth, Death and Old age.) How can this happen? If one contemplates on that Upanishadic Brahman, whom we are worshipping symbolically as Lalitha,
we get rid of that suffering of birth, death and old age. That means, the name should arouse in us the feeling that SHE is the all encompassing Deity in the
universe and we should immerse ourselves in HER contemplation. Such a contemplation can bring us peace. Let us not imagine that SHE is sitting there with a
bowl of peace to offer to us, as soon as we recite the words in the Nama!! And offer Kunkum or flowers.
There is a practice of doing Ramayana Parayana or Gita Parayana which are supposed to be meritorious rituals. Ramayana is a piece of wonderful literature and
the Slokas are meant to understand and enjoy. We must become one with Rama or Lakshmana or Bharata or any other character in the Kavya. How can we expect any
benefit from repeating the words in a Shloka (Maybe sometimes incorrectly too!!) without understanding anything? Then, they will be as good or as bad as any
other word. For example, in the beginning itself, Valmiki is asking Narada to name a man in this world who possesses certain qualities like:
  "Dharma, Krtagynata, satyavaakyata, dhridavratatva, satcharitra, etc.etc."
The qualities form the very foundation of our culture. If one goes on repeating those Shlokas 100 or even 1000 times, what we can expect to happen? It is as
good or as bad as repeating the letters in the Sanskrit Alphabet 1000 times!! When Rama says, with all love towards Bharata:
  "Na sarve bhraatarastaataa bhavanti bharatopamaaha ."
(Not all brothers are like Bharata). Should we not be able to join with Rama in his love for Bharata?
When Rama is standing alone for the battle in "Janasthana", in front of fourteen thousand cruel demons, Valmiki describes the scene in a poignant manner as
an exclamation from the Devas assembled there.
  "Chaturdasha sahasraani rakshasaam bheemakarmanaam; Eko Ramascha dharmaatma katham yuddham bhavishyati? ."
  (There is the dharmaatma Rama, standing alone in front of 14000 cruel demons there. What kind of battle is this?)
It seems when Kulashekara, the Raja of Travancore heard this Shloka rendered by a Lecturer, he had been so immersed in the story, that he asked his minister to
get the army ready to go to "Janasthana" to help Rama! Kulashekara was with. Rama at that moment and truly experienced every moment of what Rama was up against.
This is the kind of feeling aroused and should be aroused in a genuine reader of the Ramayana. If one does not understand, how can he get that feeling at all?
What other benefit can possibly be there by repeating that Shloka 100 times in a Parayana?
The same holds good for Bhagavad-Gita too. It is full of Philosophical concepts only to be understood and practiced in life. What kind of benefit can we expect
by repeating the Shloka only without understanding them? Such a Parayana is a meaningless ritual.
Let us not be under the illusion that they are all Sanskrit words and just a repetition of those words will bring all benefits to us. Then, why such monumental
treatises like Vedas, Ramayana, Bhagavata, Bhagavatgeetha etc.? If we go on repeating the letters in Sanskrit Alphabet with all their "maatras", some 1000 times
a day, by permutation and combination they are bound to become as many Slokas in Ramayana or Geeta.
Parayana by itself is not wrong. But if it has to be really useful, one should understand the full meaning of what one is reciting. It is only then that our
rituals really become meaningful.
There is another aspect of the rituals which we should consider. We have already said that they help to strengthen the feelings aroused in an individual,
feelings of gratitude, love, respect and faith. They help the individual to concentrate better on whatever we are trying to contemplate. For e.g., let us say
we would like to concentrate on Lord Shiva, as described in the Mantras or slokas. The mind, no doubt, tries sincerely to concentrate on the meaning of the
Mantras and thereby to contemplate on Shiva. But, what about the other senses? The eyes will be seeing something outside, the ears will try to hear outside
sounds, the nose gets distracted by some sweet or bad smell, the hands will not keep quiet, the knees and knee joints complain of pain, the sultry weather in a
place like Chennai makes the body feel miserable, because of constant perspiration. Thus, all the senses try to distract the mind away from what it is trying
to contemplate. Unfortunately, as the Upanishad puts it, that is their nature.
  "Paraanchi khani vyatrnat swayambhuhu; tasmaat paraak pashyati naantaraatman ."
  (Brahma the Creator, created the senses only to look "outwards". That is how they never turn "inwards").
That is what we find in the Lalitha Sahasranama also:
  "Antarmukha samaaradhya bahirmukha sudurlabha ."
  (SHE is easily propitiated by those who have all their senses pointing "inwards", but very difficult for those whose senses are always directed "outwards").
Hence, it is very necessary for constant contemplation (dhyana), to have all the senses to be ONE with the mind. Even if this is not possible, we must at least
see that the senses co-operate in the process with the mind, by making them do things that are complementary to the feelings aroused by the mantras. That is
where the "rituals" help.
For e.g.: If one sits to perform a puja of a Shiva linga, he has an icon of Shiva in front of him. The contemplation is to be of Shiva in the linga. The eyes will
be looking at the linga and enjoying its splendour and beauty. The ears will be listening to the Mantras recited by the individual or others. The nose will be
busy in inhaling the sweet fragrance of the flowers made ready for the Puja. The tongue will be busy in reciting the Mantras or stotras. The hands will be engaged
in performing Abhisheka or Puja. The body has to sit in a particular posture convenient, but with all due respect to the individual. Thus, all the outward
senses will be engaged in acts complementary to the act of contemplation. With this kind of co-operation of the senses, the experience of contemplation is 100%.
The same thing holds good in performing a homa too. The eyes will be directly seeing the resplendent Fire God, the symbol of "Paramatma"; the ears will be
listening to he mantras; the nose inhaling the fragrance of the "homa dhuma"; the hands engaged in the act of "homa" itself. And thus, the pleasure of
contemplating the Deity will be complete.
A day-to-day mundane analogy will not be out of place here. Forty or fifty years ago, when TV wasn't there, we used to hear the radio commentary of the cricket
matches being played in Australia or England and enjoy. But then, we could only listen and not see. Now, that TV is beaming all the matches Live, we can "see"
the actual match with our eyes and listen to the commentary too. Now, the pleasure is definitely doubled or even trebled. Much more should be the pleasure of
those who actually watch the match from the pavilions. Thus, when all the outward senses are engaged in the same act of enjoying the scene, along with the mind,
the pleasure of the experience is boundless. Exactly the same thing can be said about our rituals. It must however be reiterated that the mere fact of the
outward senses engaged in those religious acts without the mind contemplating on the same, will be completely futile, as no pleasure can be experienced without
the association of the mind. A gain (at the risk of tedious repetition!), it must be said, that if the mind has to be engaged in such an act, one MUST
understand what he is reciting--be it a mantra, a shloka or a nama. That is how Yaska, the Rishi who wrote "nirukta" (the meaning of the Vedas) said:
  "sthaanurayam bhaaraharaha kilabhuth; adheetya vedaan\,navijaanaati\, yaha artham ."
  (He who has studied the Vedas but does not know the meaning, is indeed, a stone pillar meant for supporting a heavy load).
IF one does not know the meaning of what one recites, the mind refuses to dwell on the Deity whose qualities, the Mantra is expected to extol. Let us not be
under the dangerous illusion that the Deity to whom we are performing the Puja will be more than satisfied by our external, mechanical acts!!
One may ask the question, whether contemplation or meditation is not possible without the external acts. Yes, it is possible. But only when our mind is
completely free from all kinds of external forces and pressures and free from the normal maladies of humans like greed, envy, anger, hatred, avariciousness,
fear etc. We may, no doubt, sit in a closed room, with closed eyes, sit in a particular posture, giving no room to our external senses to grab something from
outside. But this denial is a forced one and the senses become restless. Moreover, the mind being what it is, cannot remain concentrated on any thing unless,
there is a concrete object. It flies from place to place. Even the repetition of a mantra may not be able to harness it because it does not know on what to
concentrate. Should it be on the letters? Should it be on the image envisaged by the shlokas? Wthout an image or some symbol, in front of us, the sight of
which is carried by the eyes to the mind, it is very difficult for the mind to envisage an image and concentrate on it too. Should we concentrate on the
meaning of the mantra? Yes, it can do it- once, twice or thrice. Then the mind gets bored and jumps elsewhere. It is here, that the rituals help the mind.
They are there to strengthen the feelings aroused in the mind and the latter can go on thinking about it with the different rituals keeping the mind fresh.
All the ritualistic processes are meant for those simple masses who are still getting initiated into the intricacies of spiritualism, so that it helps in
contemplation of our creator and aids us in developing a gratitude towards HIM and by contemplating more, we one fine day can hope to rid ourselves of the
"thamogunas" (the negative qualities like greed, jealousy, anger etc. etc.) and cleanse our mind.
There definitely were and are there now, the great souls who are able to concentrate and have achieved much without the help of rituals. Let us pay our
respects to them.
Prof. Shri R. Srikanta Kumara Swamy, 408, Lakshmi Ramaswamy soudha, Jayalakshmi road. Chamarajapuram Mysore Ph:0821-2330454
About the author:
The author of this article is a retired Prof of Metallurgy from IIT Chennai, (he taught for 23yrs at IIT) as well as a Vedic scholar and is conversant and
well-read about various scriptures of Hindu Religion. A very principled, simple man, with most rational and scientific-minded approach towards religion as well
as life. He has authored 3 books so far, in Kannada. He has delivered discourses on Valmiki Ramayana and the Bhagavad-Gita. The author currently resides in
Mysore and teaches the Vedas voluntarily to those interested.
(Update: the author has passed away. The above contact details may not work.)

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