From Where Have I Come?
After every song is sung and unto the last breath there remains the question: Why have I come?
Pleasure, yes, there is pleasure. Then there is serving others, the very real personal need in every one of us to uplift humanity, to help our fellow beings and our Mother Earth. Naturally, there is the urge to create, to open oneself to wonder.
Swami Rama often posed such questions:
Why have I come?
From where have I come?
To where am I going?
When he asked this of us, it was more than mere words. He turned the key, opened a door, and invited us in.
There are prayers and prayers and prayers in so many languages, belief systems and cultures I will never know. From tundra to desert outback to high mountain desert to jungle village to the great metropolises of this earth---the impulse to celebrate the sacred in us and make life holy arises.
Of the countless modalities of prayer, I am deeply drawn to the sacred word. Here, in this small patch of earth in the foothills of the Himalayas, the days are connected like constellations of so many stars spread out against the sky. All of life seems like a reenactment of some part of an ancient epic, like the Mahabharataor the Ramayana.
Navaratri is a time of prayer and celebration. In the Tara Devi Temple, oat seeds are placed in baskets to sprout and soon, the baskets are bursting with thick, vibrant green grass. It is a time of freshness and renewal. For many it is a time of fasting and silence and renewed resolve. There is chanting and inward absorption in special mantras.
The Historical, Cosmic and Inward Journeys Coalesce
Navaratri celebrates Ma Durga’s conquest of dark forces and Rama’s obliteration of Ravana, the King of Demons. The epics that permeate Indian Hindu culture are not just stories. From early childhood, they are the substance of village, family and individual life both inwardly and in customs. The Indian epics occur on 3 levels just as the conquest of the demons by Durga Devi and Lord Rama are ever present in the public imagination and in daily life. The 3 levels are the historical, the cosmic, and the internal spiritual.
Who Is The Goddess?
After Swami Veda imparted one of the Devi mantras, the Ityuktaa, in 2007, he said:
Who said? She by whom this whole world, whole universe, is upheld and sustained. What She said---is not mentioned in this mantra. What She says to you inside—you have to listen.
It has taken me awhile to figure out that this statement might serve as a guideline to prayer. There are shining texts, mantras and teachers, gifts of grace, to be sure. Yet there is no handbook to liberation like the innermost self.
Swami Veda continued:
Now which Divine Lady is it being referred to?
There is only one in the universe. Some know her as Sarasvati, the lady of wisdom, knowledge, music, inspiration.
Some know her as Laxmi, the lady of wealth and good fortune and so on. Some know her as Taara, she who takes us across. Some know her as Dolma, in Tibetan, some know her as Kwan Yin, some know her as Kwannon, some know her as Mother Maria, some knew her as Isis, some knew her as Athena.
It is the same One. So whichever form of Her you prefer, you may address the mantra, that is, dedication of your mind to that form.
The 9 Goddesses
Navaratri is celebrated by the Hindus of India in many ways. The Navaratri that occurs in the autumn coincides with the cosmic events as reenacted in the Ramayana.
Many Hindus worship a particular form of God or Goddess. In North India and in other parts of India as well, Durga is sometimes thought of as the all-inclusive name of the Devi.
On Navaratri, Durga reveals herself in 9 forms, one for each of the 9 nights. These 9 goddesses appear in the Devi Kavacha of the Chandipatha.
Shailaputri is the Devi of the first night. She is the embodiment of the triple Shakti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. She is mother earth herself. Her name means “daughter of the mountain.” She is Parvati, sati, and consort of lord Shiva.
She is the Devi of muladhara, the root chakra. Her upward journey calls to mind the journey of the aspirant. Once aroused, Shailaputri begins her ascent to the highest Himalaya, to Lord Shiva himself.
Shaila derives from the word shila, a rock or a stone. From this firm ground, the disciple---- like Shailaputri’s ascent to Shiva---- commences the interior pilgrimage to, from and in the guru.
It is one day after the new moon. She has begun Her ascent. With a crescent moon in her forehead, she holds a trident in her right hand and a lotus flower in her left. She sits astride Nandi, the bull, who hears everything spoken and unspoken between Lord Shiva and Shakti. At SRSG, someone posted a cameo of her with the following caption: Do you recognize her? She resides within you.
You can read more about the forms of the goddess celebrated on the other nights of Navaratri; see https://hinduism.about.com/od/godsgoddesses/ss/navadurga.htm
Navaratri here has become a deep return to Divine Mother through various mantra recitations. One of these is akhanda japa, the uninterrupted 24/7 recitation, of Shri Lalita Sahasranama, (the 1000 Names of the Devi), a revered sacred Tantra text.
Once again, Pandit Harshanand and his wife Kusum blessed this procession. Many local priests participated in the pujas and the akhanda japa to ensure the continual flow of the Devi presence throughout Navaratri. Prasad, the distribution of fruits, sweets and flowers followed each puja.
The Introduction to the English version of Shri Lalita Sahasranama translated by Swami Tapasyananda of Sri Ramakrishna Math is intriguing and tells the origin of this text, given by no less than the goddesses of speech itself.
This introduction also tells us that the Shri Chakra is, besides other things, a diagrammatic representation of the Goddess and her capital Shripura.
There is a crystal Shri Chakra at the feet of Tara Devi. Without initiation the subtle practices surrounding the Shri Chakra are mired in illusion.
The Mysteries of the Tara Devi Temple
The Tara Devi Temple here has a beautiful Tara Devi murti. A murti is an image which has been brought to life once imbued with the Shakti of particular mantras done in a particular way. This is called prana pratishtha.
The first years of this temple were occasioned with many visits by Swami Veda to the Tara Devi. Sometimes it felt like Tara Devi and Swami Veda were silently talking or communing. I don’t know. But people who were there can tell you that they were witness to something extraordinary. Sometimes I think I can see Swami Veda’s face in this Tara Devi.
The Introduction of Shri Lalita Sahasranama further explains that a mantra is no less than the subtle body of the goddess. It also touches on Shri Vidya, a set of sacred practices which are only given to those who are fully prepared. Shri Vidya is often shrouded in mystery and, unfortunately, all too often, is sold for profit and power by mere pretenders.
Caution is advised because it has become a pop item with false promises by wannabe masters of Shri Vidya. You should not let yourself be cheated by masters of fantasy and fabrication.
If I understand correctly, Shri Vidya is an initiatory practice/experience given by an able preceptor who himself/herself has been initiated in and follows this path. Anything else is mere play.
Dussehra, the End of the Battle
In the Ramayana, Ravana has stolen Sita, the holy consort of Lord Rama.
The king of demons rose, his mighty body shaking with fury. He was enormously tall, with 10 heads which could look in every direction. His 20 black eyes flashed and crackled like lightning….Finally, with a prayer Rama sent the powerful Brahmastra flying towards Ravana. Screeching like an eagle, the flaming arrow pierced Ravana’s golden armour and embedded itself right into his heart.
The oceans rose high in the air…mountains split open and began to pour out lava. The king of demons fell down on to the earth with a roar that shook all the 3 worlds.
And Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita, his true bride at his side.
Dussehra begins at the end of the 9th night. In the Shri Lalita Sahasranama and in the heart of every Hindu child, Durga has slain every demon. And Rama has destroyed Ravana, the demon king.
The Ramayana is alive in us. Here is an excerpt from my 3rd October, 2014 diary.
Today is the last day of Navaratri. Walking to evening meditation, the skies split open with the sounds of a great hovering monster. The sounds are just barely suggested, just subtle enough that they almost feel real. Every year, I think I am imagining things. Last year, coming up the hill from evening meditation with Silvia and Swami Ma Radha, I mentioned that the soft, distant rumblings seemed as if they were coming from some netherworld.
Then Silvia said “Oh, it’s Dussehra. They have built a 30-foot high Ravana, and Rama is about to destroy him.”
The creaking sounds are so evocative that it almost feels like the forces of good and evil are face to face.
The Combined Tara-Saumya Mantra
This morning in the Tara Devi Temple, on Day 9, after layer upon layer of prayers, we chanted the combined Tara-Saumya Mantra 3 x 108 times.
Combined Tara-Saumya Mantra
Om aiṁ strīṁ tāre tuttāre ture svāhā
The feeling in the room was indescribable. Or was it in the room?
Or Is it something that has been seeded in The Forever? I ask myself.
You have to go there to know what I am saying. Or maybe you have already been there.
Washing the Feet of the Devis
Every year on the last morning, Swami Veda invokes the actual presence of the goddess in 9 little girls. He blesses them, feeds them a small feast and gives each one special gifts. He once said to us something like this is not cute. Each child is blessed with the presence of the Devi.
This year he came out on his balcony for this occasion. A grand table was set and Swamiji overflowed with grace and affection as each child was brought to him to wash her feet.
Several times, I felt my eyes wanting to close, to fully immerse myself in the scene unfolding before my very eyes.
A question crossed my mind. How is it possible for someone to give us so much and ask so little?
It would have been enough to bring us all together in this incredibly diverse spiritual family—in a time when the whole earth seems to be splitting apart with overconsumption of resources, Ebola epidemics, and the worst--- neighbor fighting neighbor---wars.
It would have been enough to get a passing glance of that face of compassion.
It would have been enough to have been whispered one sacred prayer.
It would have been enough to have sat up close to this teacher, so vast before his mere physical form.
It would have been enough to witness that yet others are carrying that same sacred stream with them like a mother carries baby in the womb---yet forever.
How is it possible for someone to give us so much and ask so little?
Not power. Not glory. Not strength. Not all encompassing wisdom. Not the humility of the very young and the very old. Not infinite compassion. Maybe all of those but most certainly one thing:
This is what he is made of.
In 1970 I first met Swami Veda Bharati, then Dr. Usharbudh Arya, a young father and university professor who invited us into his home to share what he knew. He had met his master, H.H. Swami Rama. We were his first group after the master had given him samadhi.
We met for 3 hours a night, 7 nights a week in the attic during a hot, humid summer with no air conditioning. Ninety people crammed into a small room. Catholic priests, atheists, scientists, poets, hippies, students, professors, office workers, manual laborers—all of humanity was welcome there. We were a close-knit family.
He wanted to give us everything. He had hit the ground running and has never stopped or looked back since.
And the longer I know him the more I am sure that I have not an inkling of who this person is---except that he is helpless love.
May we all---in some world if not this one—in some incarnation if not now-- be that one day. I only believe it is possible because I am sure that he believes it. This is all I know.
Photos by Jay Prakash Bahuguna.