The Mother Divine
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By N. R. Srinivasan
Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath
(From a discourse at Ganesha Temple, Nashville, Nov. 2014)

Our rituals, rites and sacrifices (Yajnas) have all arisen from ancient past and are often performed without understanding their meaning. Sacrifices constitute the major portion of the Hindu Sacraments (Samskaaras). Wrong interpretation or understanding of Vedic Mantras may lead to wrong conclusions and will not lead us to our desired goals. Blind religious belief and practices will not harm us but will not also help us in spiritual advancement towards liberation.  People started neglecting Vedic study and turned to be atheists or materialists disillusioned by wrong sacrificial practices that crept in misinterpreting Vedas.  So Puranas were composed in the name of Vedic rishis and gods making them more interesting by way of stories to draw the people away from the influence of such wrong turns. Even Bhagavadgeetaa which was a Yogopanishad was brought out as the Sayings of the Lord (Bhagwaanuvaacha) while two armies of opposing views were facing each other, one focused on ego and materialism and other on Dharma.

Temple rituals and procession of idols were introduced for the same purpose to win over atheism and materialism. New gods were created and holy men deified and worshiped. Most popular among the Puranic Gods is Lord Ganesha. You can see the icons of these holy men being worshiped in Hindu Temples and focused as Avatars.  People needed someone in particular to take care of all obstacles and impediments they face with. The epithet Ganapati used to praise Rudra (Brahman) in Rigveda (ganaam tva Ganapati [ga]m havaamahe) was used to name the Puranic deity created.  Ganesha was raised to the status of Brahman and even an Upanishad was   brought forth named Ganesha Atharvaseersha Upanishad introducing it to Atharvaveda.  Elaborate slokas were composed on Puraanic deities including Phalasrutis promising heaven misguiding people (ekakale pathen nityam mahaapaataka naasanam) falsifying Karma and Prayaschitta theory.   We find in Ganesha ashtottara, a prayer term which says “Sacchidaanada Vigrahaaya Namah”. Here the Vedic concept of Nirguna Brahman has been brought down to Puraanic level making an idol of even Nirguna Brahman. Again we worship with the prayer Gunaateetaaya Namah. Gunateeta according to Gita is a liberated soul earning to get absorbed in Brahman.  Ganesha can’t be a liberated soul if he is to be meditated upon as Brahman. These prayers are chanted in all Ashottara worship in all temples without Vedic thought even today.  Of course we can argue if Ghee (Ghritam) used in yajna can be meditated upon as Brahman mentioned in Vedas why not these? But the Vedic philosophy behind this is “Sarvam Brahmamayam Jagat’’--We can’t think other than Brahman in all things we see. These new trends have made the study of Vedas futile by thrusting Puraanic ideas in the interpretation of Vedic expressions which were in   enigmatic capsule form for easy recitation and remembrance as writing was not in vogue then. Minds of people got progressively engrossed in these Puraanic ideas and elaborate colorful festivals and rituals. These were forced on people as being means for Salvation based on Puraanic incidences and events some true and some false and many imaginary. You can find in every village or idol a Sthala puraana or local history called Mahatmya.  Grihya ceremonies were instituted as Grihya sootras on the basis of Vedic word of the Mantra not explaining the Vedic Philosophy and thoughts. Thus we find to-day that all rituals and customs which are only means to an end are ends in themselves. They are also considered as the only practical religion to be observed which has led us to many blind beliefs and showmanship.

The great value of Vedas lies in promoting human happiness. The habit of evil or idle thoughts causes man’s mind to wander away, prevents concentration and wastes mental energy. Vedas have ordained mental contemplation on the Omnipresence of the Supreme Self within us. Vedic Rishis discovered recitation of Vedic hymns and Sooktas change the habit of mind’s chatter over vain thoughts or idleness. Hymns lead us to meditation of the All-pervading and so to Jnaanamarga (Intelligence Path). The essence of Vedic religion is peace of mind and this can be achieved only by control of thoughts and moving away from vain chattering of the mind. Spiritual impulses arise only in a mind that stands still. This is the principle involved in Praanaayaama (not Naasikayaaama, simple holding of the nose but stand still state of mind) and Yoga. Praanaas are five Vital forces as you all know. We come to a state of transcendence when we hold Praanas for a while still and meditate.  Vedas say only then we could be relieved of our miseries and sufferings. This also promotes calmness in the environment.  Mantras give the will power for thought transference in peace of mind. Thought uncontrolled is a deadly enemy to will power. It is easier said than done.  It was easy for Vedic rishis who developed the technique by symbolic Soma sacrifice with spiritual understanding and thought.
The purpose of Hindu sacrificial rites, temple rituals and festivals with Puranic exposition is to nourish the religious sentiments of the people to suit their mental conditions according to their stage of development. This culture is physical and gross in nature. This process of external worship needs to be transferred to intellectual (subtle) plane.  All Vedic rites, religious ceremonies, modes of worship, yoga practices, festivals and rituals are for strengthening of our faculties to work on a higher plane by the power of habitual thought and conduct.  Upanishads, the later portion of the Vedas teach us how to withdraw from the physical to mental plane, and from the mental plane or subtle physical plane to the spiritual plane in which alone the activity of the intelligent being achieves and sustains the desired and lasting fruit. This is what the Yoga Upanishad popularly known as Bhagavadgeetaa which got introduced into Mahaabhaarata later teaches us, as well the later Kaivalyopanishad.

Of Course many people like Ramanuja, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Chaitanya, Tyagaraja, Meera and others who are religiously devoted have experienced the spiritual sanctity with or  without applying  the core process of transformation that I have described above. In fact their examples have made many to follow religion blindly thinking they are devoted like those noble souls or what they are doing is right. Such privileged ones are few and far between who in their past have exhausted almost all their bad Karmas. However, the educated intellect-scholars of modern days like Vivekananda, Chinmayananda, Swami Dayananda and others with their enquiring mind have struggled hard to know and understand the original teachings of Upanishads and their core meanings and have spread the message to modern society particularly to those not well read in Sanskrit, English educated and spiritually inclined.

The reasons are many for the prevalent corrupted religious practices of today which includes political influence and interference as seen in India.  One main reason for the corruption is that religion and religious ceremonies have become gradually a business and core focus of profitability and job security for those who claim to be the owners of God’s messengers or expression of their ego as philanthropists. No one wants to challenge them because of the fear of God and the curse that such authority may impose on the religiously faithful.  We do not know who is genuine and who is not!  We have heard of many popular Sadhus (self-proclaimed Gurus) going out of circulation or behind bars. We are helpless in such situations. Considering the pros and cons the spiritual focus with proper understanding of religious practices, which were regulated by later Aagamas without proper explanation, seems more appealing to the modern educated, particularly to Hindu Americans. Hindu Americans are also caught between inter-faiths and cultures and influenced by the major culture or religion.  The result is hotchpotch approach in our religious practices without focus on the Supreme. We find Hindu wedding and Christian Solemnization of marriage for the same couples.   Instead of blindly following these religious protagonists or simply repeating after the priests without understanding Veda mantras and rituals conducted in divine language, the logic would be right spiritual understanding, orientation and enlightenment in performing worship and rituals described above seem logical for those who are caught between cultures.

The process of understanding the real meaning of the mantras and rituals started in the Yajurveda, Aranyakas and Upanishads expounding the principles contained in the mantras and in describing the rituals in Rigveda throwing light on the spiritual aspect. To understand all these, the knowledge of Niruktas, Mimasa Sutras, Srauta Sutras, Brahma Sutras and Puranas are necessary. The study of Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads is therefore essential for understanding the Vedic religion. Our present day religious practices though based on these remain as mere do-how without having the knowledge of why we are doing it like Panchamrita Snaanam in Abhishekam, Naivedyam etc.  Bhagavadgeetaa says Patram Pushpam Phalam Toyam in symbolic little quantity. Bhaktimaarga enthusiasm has culminated in the over-flow of these materials today ending in sewers and dumpsters without thoughts being focused on spiritual uplift.  We mostly depend on Western interpretation of Vedic mantras or Western Education trained Indian authors. For various reasons such people  cannot be expected to see things, and revolve thought under exactly the same angle of vision and in the same light as are the birth–right of the Vedic scholars like Ramanuja, Sankara, Ranga Ramanuja, Sayana, Madhva and others or those scholars who have made deep study of their commentaries. We need to go to their elucidations of Vedas and Upanishads.

The Vedic priests did not believe in gods and demons as does the average man of today. They were men of superior intelligence and training and felt the presence of God, realizing the truths of Vedas, in their spiritual Consciousness. Unfortunately today we are led by priests who are mechanically trained as they too in turn could not find proper Gurus and receive proper training. This again has become a profession for living and not for the spread of Vedic wisdom.

The Vedic mantras we employ in our worship and rituals have three meanings as we end all prayer mantras with repeating the words Santi three times in high, medium and low voice. These are: 1) Adhyaatma or Intuitive; 2) Adhidaiva or relating to the story of Gods referred in the mantras; and 3) Adhibhoota, relating to unintelligent matter, both in its subtle and gross forms.

The religious philosophy of Vedas was aimed at the knowledge of the internal working of the body. Life was a sacrifice. The body of the man and the whole universe were all considered as divine creation.   The priests who conducted sacrifices were also divine working on the senses (Indriyas). Later on these truths were cleverly dressed up in stories and fables as we find in the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata so that progressively all people may attain right knowledge.  The story remains and knowledge rarely seen in the acts performed. We find Vedic names in these Epics treated as proper names as kings, subjects and servants in the stories. Finally, the whole moral code was taught in the Bhagavdgeetaa which was inserted into Mahabharata in simple language. Are we making use of their wisdom thoughts?

Vedas, Hindus believe are eternal or revealed by God or Brahman. They are the records of the great Rishis from whom Hindus have descended as revealed by our Gotras.  The Rishis are so called because they are the seers of the Supreme Self or the greatest Truth. Each Sookta has a Rishi or an inspired teacher to whom it has been revealed. The language, meters and presentation of Sooktas,   all show a considerable amount of learning needed.  The knowledge of Vedas is considered as true wisdom and also the real wealth of man which is imperishable unlike the ordinary wealth. In Vedas it is said the Gods or Divines obtained the wealth of the Asuras or demons through Veda or Knowledge and hence it is so called (Hayagreeva Incarnation was brought in for its exposition) as Veda.

Present day Yajnas (Fire sacrifices) in temples and at home are performed meaninglessly and lots of money are spent without any attempt to understand consistently the ideas of rituals in the light of Rigveda mantras on which it is based. Even if it is known to some priests the knowledge is not seen as having influenced the vast participants who follow the rituals in blind faith. The rituals which are aimed at deifying the vessels, the fagots and the ingredients used have to be understood by the devotees as well as the performers in the light of the Tantric concept of the Mantras being practiced and a consistent real meaning of the ritual has to be known and conveyed to the participants. 

“The sacrificial works which  the wise read in the Hymns of the Veda, have been performed in many uninterrupted courses in Tretayuga, distinguished for sacrifices; Practice them diligently, ye lovers of Truth, this is the path that leads to the true path” says Mundaka Upanishad.

There is a mantra in Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad (4.2.2) which describes the benefits derived from Yajnya (sacrifice).  It says “Brahmins (those devoted to Vedic learning) endeavour to realize Self through Vedic learning, through the performance of sacrifices, through charity, through austerities and through fasts.  When this purpose has been achieved they renounce all and become Sannyaasins”.

Sacrifice, Charity and Austerity and actions are necessary and obligatory and all acts should be done as worship to God says Geetaa in sloka 5 of chapter 18.   Yajnadaanatapah   karma na tyaajyam kaaryameva tat | yajno daanam tapaschaiva paavanaani maneeshinaam || [Work in the form of sacrifice, gift and austerity should not be relinquished, but indeed should be performed; (because) sacrifice, gift and austerity are sanctifying to the  wise”. What we see today is good participation and attendance enjoying the show of mechanical religious performance of Yajnaas and Homas for few hours and then to forget everything without understanding the spiritual import of Veda mantras, or practicing in life what these mantras conveyed.

Chandogya Upanishad says: “There are three branches of the Law of Dharma viz., Sacrifice, Study and Charity governing the life of the follower of Veda”.

Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad defines a Muni as follows: “They seek to know Him through the study of Vedas, through fasting and by knowing Him alone to become a Muni (saint)”  
These texts clearly explain that the object of a sacrifice is to make a person understand the secret knowledge or the Supreme Self, and also the working of nature in the body and outside world.  It is also to make nature a living presence with which the contemplator may come in communion, in his spiritual consciousness, and to act in real   harmony with the Divine will, and live in God.

We can canalize water produced by rains but we cannot produce rains. We have to dispatch certain goods to the abode of celestials as a barter deal. It is the kind of exchange Geetaa speaks of: Devaan bhaavayataanena te devaa bhavayantu vah | Parasparam bhaavayantah sreyah param avaapsyatha—“You keep the Devas satisfied with the performance of sacrifices (Yajnyas). And let them look after your welfare by producing rain on earth. Thus helping each other is for being more and more prosperous and happy”. We also learn from Vedas: Dharmo rakshitu rakshitah—Dharma protects those who protect it.
What about the concept of God by these Rishis in Vedic Religion? The rishis distinguished Eternal from the perishable and held that the seed of the Eternal exists as Aatman or Aanadamaya Kosa in us.  Its realization must be through mind and the heart.  Upanishads say a connection between the heart, mind and brain for self-control exists through Sushumna Naadi. Katha Upanishad says the smaller than small, greater than great is hidden in the inner cavity of heart of the body as Antaryamin”.  The story of the banyan seed which grows into a large tree illustrates the same. “It becomes manifest in the Sushumna which divides the cerebrum into two hemispheres. He saw the light, the all-pervading Brahman manifest in the Sushumna” says Aitreya Aaaranyaka.

Vedas and Upanishads often employ metaphors,  symbols (Om)  and numbers (odd and even numbers as in Chamakam) which has caused confusion in the minds of all when literally translated  without explaining the implied meaning of terms like pasu  (literal meaning animal) and Vritraharna.  This has also made some of our religious acts to move away from original intentions of sacred thoughts and indulge in killing animals in order to please the deity. It also looks silly when asked to meditate upon food, honey and ghee and describe Sun as Dadhikra. Our focus is on Dadhi (yogurt) and the   appreciation of the sculptural beauty of the idol in a white background as the yogurt is poured chanting mantra “Dadhikraavinno akaarisham” rather than focus on invisible Nirguna Brahman on whom we are presumed to meditate!  In the absence of Vedic knowledge of sacrificial and various other rites in our present day religious practices, the Veda mantras used in such rituals prove to be a mass of tediousness and stupidity and the practices   which cover up Yajus formulas become covered up by silly details of formalism, conveying   no real   meaning of human values. Even in Sraaddha (to the deceased ancestors) and temple rites, customs and ceremonies, all offerings to God are treated as Pasu and no animal sacrifices are made. The Maadhva and Vaikhaanasa Brahmins and other Aagama followers have been for a long time using in sacrifices a Pasu made of wheat flour only and not any living animal at all to slowly bring around blind believers indulged in killing by misunderstanding scriptures.

Great philosophers and religious thinkers from generation to generation through many centuries must have realized these facts. This has made possible for Vedas to keep their exalted place in spite of the wrong practices on the part of many based on their mistaken notions and uninquiring traditions. If we care to rightly understand the procedure of four-faced Brahma, in transferring himself into a horse and making himself an offering, and the spiritual interpretation thereof, we are bound to have a correct idea of Aswamedha Yajna and the human sacrifice in Purushasookta, “Bound man to a sacrificial post”. This may be rightly interpreted spiritually   as:  1) that the spiritual being absolutely offers himself in devotion to the Supreme Being or 2) the soul or the limited spiritual being has after all to make the Lord Himself, both the material of worship and the object of worship, for everything has to be given to him by the Almighty Being, and in every activity he would be willing to help him on. This has been beautifully explained in Geetaa: “Brahmaarpanam Brahmahavih Brhmaagnau Brahmanaa hutam | Brahmaiva tena gantavyam Brahmakarmasamaadhinaam”—the ladle is Brahman, the oblation is Brahman, it is offered by Brahman in the fire, which is Brahman; Brahman alone he attains who sees Brahman in action. Here the performer’s thoughts are focused on “Sarvam Brahmaamayam Jagat”—there is nothing other than Brahman in the whole universe. In the words of Madhusudhana Saraswati “In a sacrifice, there are five constituents: the Karta (doer); the Karma (act); Karana, the instrument; Sampradhana, the deity addressed as Adhikaari, the receptacle that is fire into which the oblation is poured. One who considers the sacrificial action in the light of Samaadhi (consciousness in Brahman) has Karma Samaadhi”.
Hindu Sastraas give more importance to Nitykarmas and Naimittika Karmas more than performing worships   and sacrifices at home and temples. They feel these are the foundations on which our other modes of worship should be built.

What should be our goal in Life?  Smritis say our life, mind, speech, ears and eyes are all for sacrifice in life (Ayur yajnyaaya dhattam aayur Yajnyapataye dhattam; stotram yajnyaaya dhattam; vaag yajnyaaya dhattam; chakshur yajnyaa dhattam). This personal Yajnya should be done with a spiritual approach and not mechanically to complete the task in a limited time or appointed day but understanding the Self is within you. It says even while consuming food for nourishment it should start with Pranaahuti about which we have discussed a lot.  We all rush to the temple for offering food to the Lord. Some even question the wisdom of it.  “Nivedana” does not mean making the Lord really eat what is offered. He does not have to eat.  Poojaa (worship) is meant to make us inwardly pure and the Lord does not have to gain anything from it. “Nivedyami” means “I am making it known to you (informing you)”. We must so speak to the Lord while offering food: “O Lord! In your compassion you have given us this food”. Then we must consume the food, thinking of him. Vaayu, Soorya Agni, Indra and Yama are subjected to Lord’s fear and are performing their duties in obedience to the Lord. Bheeshaasmaadvaatah pavate; bheeshodeti sooryah; bheeshasmaadagnischa indrscha; mrityurdhaavati pancham iti | If that is so to even the divines, who are duty-bound, we as human beings must discharge our duties in good faith and understanding if not in fear. It should not be blind faith and mechanical.

Hindu Americans have moved away from the rigidity with which they grew up in India.  Yet they seem to have certain degree of social conservatism compared to the major Western culture. We have seen their children want to be in interfaith marriages more often than not. Their parents do not endorse wholly the permissiveness in their adopted land. Hindu partners often wish a marriage celebrated with both faiths.  The Hindu partner tries to make a compromise with the active co-operation of his non-conservative and pervasive partner and continues to attend Hindu temples in order to keep the relationship and Hindu values more so when the partner happens to be male.  Hindu partner also tries to bring up their children with broad based Hindu Values and openness to adopt what is good in the   partner’s faith or culture.  It is therefore necessary for the Hindu society living abroad with liberal values should think of making the rituals and worships more meaningful and appealing for easy adoption by such a society.  This does not warrant a radical change if we clearly understand Veda mantras used in our religious worships and rituals. Hindu Americans realize in a globalized world India too   has become more socially liberal and religiously relaxed focusing on spiritual and human values with its secular adopted political system.  Compatibility, commitment shared values have taken priority over caste, creed religion and family background.  We have also seen that such thoughts have moved many to communist or atheist philosophies if religion and faith are not able to bend their conservative views.  In order to avoid such extreme approaches it is necessary to make our worships and rituals more meaningful and spiritually appealing which appeals to all modern educated. Proper understanding of Veda Mantras used in our rituals and worships and focusing on Universal Oneness and Spirituality  which Vivekananda preached on which these mantras are focused  will go a long way in restoring Hinduism to its original spirit of Sanatana Dharma—Sarvejanah sukhino bhavantu,; eko viprah bahudaa vadanti; krinvanto viswamaaryam; Aatmatvat sarvabhooteshu ; sarve saantih etc.

“Hinduism is more a recent nomenclature given to a conglomeration of heterogeneous traditions and plurality of beliefs and worship with a long history of development from the Vedic sacrificial religion through the worship of epic and Puraanic heroes and personal deities, cults and sects, as well as philosophical systems rather than a monolithic tradition or a structure based on single beliefs and worship or a single text as scripture” says Champaka Lakshmi in her book “The Hindu Temple”. We must get back to our original thoughts of Sanatana Dharma for which the proper understanding of true meaning Veda mantras used in our worships and rituals is necessary and need of the hour living in multi-cultured society yet trying to preserve Hindu values. We should under all circumstances move away from conservative thinking, commercialization and exploitation in our religious and ritualistic practices.