The Mother Divine
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By Kinkar Vitthal Ramanuja (Excerpts from Shri Vitthal Uvaach)

Vitthal Maharaj recalled his days in Uttarkashi, Himalayas, 145 km from Rishikesh and at an elevation of 1158 m on the banks of the river, Bhagirathi.

“It would be very cold. The limbs froze. A cup of tea could put heat into the frozen body. But Thakur was against tea. All we could do was to have it on the sly. The inmates had tea in the hiding. One day Thakur came to know about the tea business. I was summoned. “I hear people are making tea and having it here in the ashram. Is that true? And are you one of them?” Silence. “Yes, it is. But I am not one of them.” “Tell me the names.” How could I tell him the names… so I invented a method of speaking the truth and at the same time defend those who, out of helplessness, had to help themselves to tea. I told Thakur the names of the people who were NOT having tea. “I can assure you, these are not having tea!” I said. Thakur knew exactly what I was up to – my defence of the culprits. It took him no time to train his suspicion upon those who were not listed by me. “You are trying to defend these people, but I understand who they are...” I was really scared about the action he would take, so I added, “But Thakur, the weather is so chilly, it’s impossible to put warmth into the limbs. Please have sympathy for them.” In the evening everybody asked me, “Did you spill the beans?” “No! I didn’t name even a single tea-guzzler’s name,” I confessed, and then added, “I merely named those who don’t drink tea!”

Vitthal Maharaj laughed. There was Uttarkashi in his eyes. He grew contemplative, perhaps nostalgic. “Thakur did not take any harsh action. But he gently admonished and asked everyone to give up tea,” he said.

Guru Mantra & Ishta Mantra

Q. Why do I need to focus on Ishta Mantra? Why should I pray only to the Ishta? Why not pray to all Gods?

A. In school, you have various subjects: Science, Maths, History, Geography, English, Hindi etc. For graduation, these subjects are limited to two or three, for the Masters, you focus on only one, and still further, for doctorate only on one theme. Similarly, concentrate on your Ishta rather than focusing on many deities.

Q. Why should we do japa of Guru Mantra, Ishta Mantra and Maha Mantra and not just one of these?

A. Guru Mantra – When the Guru gave the Guru Mantra, he actually blessed you with his Shakti (Power). That’s why you must do the Guru Mantra. Ishta Mantra – each one of us has been worshipping some God as our family Deity. Our ancestors, forefathers and fathers have worshipped that Deity; it has come down in our very blood. जिस तरह आनुवांशिक रोग जीन्स में होता है, वैसे ही योग भी जीन्स में होता है. The presiding deity of our clan and family is passed on to us through generations, it is in our blood, in our spiritual DNA. Just like we inherit disease, we also inherit divine force in the form of Ishta (presiding Deity). This is the reason it is imperative for us to chant the Ishta Mantra. Mahamantra – भगवान जगन्नाथ जी ने श्री श्री ठाकु र जी को आदेश दिया है…जा जा नाम दिगेजा – Lord Jaganath commanded Thakur ‘Go and spread the glory of Naam’. Thus, by chanting the Mahamantra we are obeying Lord Jagannath’s command.

Q. Out of the two – Guru Mantra and Ishta Mantra, which one should be treated as more important for practice?

A. It depends on the individual. You could do more of whatever is closer to your heart - Guru or Ishta Mantra. If you feel greater affinity and absorption in Guru Mantra, do that more. If you find it in Ishta Mantra, go for it. It’s alright if the japa of the other mantra is reduced in comparison. Listen to me, it’s like this –we are Bengalis, a rice eating community. We love to eat rice. Now, some people prefer to eat sattu while some others like roti made of atta. Each to his own. One can eat whatever one likes, no problem with that. Now, if we are rice-eating Bengalis, does that mean we can’t have rotis for breakfast? Of course, we can. There is no need to completely renounce rotis. Those who like Guru must do more and more of Guru Mantra and those who like Ishta, do more of Ishta Mantra. You can reduce the quantum of the other, but it is not advisable to completely give it up, because it is from the Guru only that one gets both Guru Mantra and Ishta Mantra.

Q. I crave for Ishta darshan.

A. It is spiritual practice and upliftment that is more important. Internal realization is sufficient, external darshan is not so important, though it may eventually come with the Grace of the Guru and Bhagawan. Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath says, “After coming a long way and having reached the sand-bed in the river-mouth, when the river, unable to move forward any further, starts crying, then at the auspicious moment of the full moon, the ocean herself comes forward to swallow the river in. So, treading the right path and keeping on moving forward is a must. Continuous spiritual practice (sadhana) is indispensable anyway. But the last word is Divine Grace.”

Q. I pray to different deities on different days. I cannot be content with just one. Is that okay?

A. Ideally, you should focus your attention on one single favourite deity - Ishta Deva. Because though God is everywhere and, in many forms, different individuals realize Him in his or her own chosen manifestation. But worshipping multiple deities isn’t entirely devoid of merit. That’s how unbroken remembrance of God is possible, by envisioning Him in varied manifestations. But it is desirable to stick to your Ishta. The Bhagawad Gita (4-11) says: ‘Ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham, mama vartmanuvartante manusyah partha sarvasah’ (O Partha! Whosoever worships Me through whatsoever path, I verily accept and bless them in that way. Men everywhere follow My path.)

Q. My Ishta is Shiva, but my family, that is, my husband and my son... (woefully) have both chosen Ganapati as Ishta! Is this a problem?

A. Don’t worry, Shiva and Ganapati too are from the same family!! Japa, Japa is a must. It is through japa that griha doshas are eliminated. Japa and meditation are one and the same. There are different ways to meditate, depending on the path that is adopted. In our school, japa on the name of God is identical to meditation.

Q. What is the most potent tool of sadhana?

A. Japa! Try to increase it to three hours a day. Japa is all-important. You should persevere in Japa with total devotion as per the instructions given by the Guru.

Q. Why is japa on the fingers (kara-mala) preferred?

A. Japa on the fingers is preferred because the ancient rishis discovered that different phalanges of the fingers are high energy centres which get activated upon pressing (with the tip of the thumb) during the course of japa. These in turn send currents to the whole matrix of kundalini energy coursing through the chakras. Just as one switch board with many buttons is a control panel which can operate many electrical devices like fans, lights fridge, microwave etc. in different locations, the human palm serves as an activator of a panel for spiritual energy.

Q. I feel I am not making much progress in japa, I think I am stuck?

A. If you feel that you are at a standstill…making no progress at all…do not be disheartened. Your work is to carry on japa. In due course, japa must fructify. This is definite.

Q. Can we replace kirtan with japa?

A. Try and do more japa. If you can’t, then spend half the time in japa and the other half in kirtan. Kirtan is done when mind becomes chanchal (restless). If you feel that on a certain day you can’t focus or the mind is too perturbed, then do kirtan.

Q. How should we focus our mind in dhyana? Is it the same as japa?

A. Dhyana and japa are different. Dhyana is done by focusing on the form of the deity starting from His feet, then slowly moving upwards to His nabhi (navel) and gradually upwards to His face. Now, reverse the order, and slowly go from the face to the feet. Then again upwards to the face. You must imprint every part of your deity into your mind. Dhyana is the highest. Japa is second best. But since most people can’t do dhyana, please stick to japa.

Q. If one is doing japa, is there a need to do dhyana separately?

A. Actually japa leads to dhyana and once you’re in the higher stages of dhyana and samadhi, you don’t need to do japa. At that stage, your fingers won’t reach for the mala or move on your palm to count. As soon as you sit down to think of God, you are only shedding tears and more tears. This is a high state of devotion.