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29 September, 2012

Why should every son perform ritual of Shraddha ceremony?

In Indian Culture

Why should every son perform ritual of Shraddha Ceremony?

Importance of Sraddha ceremony

       For a householder the scriptures have imposed the Panca Maha Yagnas, the five great sacrifices as obligatory duties of life.  The neglect of these duties entails penalty.  These great sacrifices are : 1. Deva Yajna (sacrifice to Gods), 2. Rsi Yjna (sacrifice to Risi).  3. Pitr Yajna (sacrifice to ancestors), 4. Bhuta Yajna (sacrifice to animals), and 5. Atithi Yajna (sacrifice to guests).

       The Sraddha ceremony comes under Pitr Yajna.  It is the sacred duty of the householder.  Every householder should perform the Sraddha ceremony for his ancestorsPitrs are forefathers who dwell in the Pitrloka.  They possess the power of clairvoyance and clairaudience.  When Mantras are recited, they exercise tremendous influence through their vibrations.  The Pitrs (ancestors) hear the sounds through the power of clairaudience and they are pleased.  They bless those who offer the oblation. 

       In Sraddha, the essence of food offerings is taken up by the Sun's rays to Suryaloka and the departed souls are pleased with the offerings.  Even in Germany and other foreign countries many persons perform Tarpana and Sraddha.  They have scientifically investigated the beneficial effects of such oblations.  It is imperative duty of all householders to perform Sraddha and Tarpana to please the Risis and Pitrs.  The Gita and Upanisads clearly bear testimony to the fact that the performance of Sraddha is very important.  It is only the deluded souls with perverted intellect who misconstrue things and neglect to perform the sacred ceremonies and consequently suffer.  They are misguided by false reasoning and logic.  Satanic influences affect them very easily.  Ignorance is the root cause for this state of affairs.

       Sraddha ceremony is done once in every year.  A day of the Pitrs is equal to one year of human computation.  This is the reason why we have to perform Sraddha ceremony once in a year.  It is equal to daily performances of Sraddha for the Pitrs (ancestors).  In their calculation we, their sons, live only for a few days, because the longest period of human existence of 100 years is merely 100 days for them.

       Some people entertain the doubt, "When the Jiva undergoes transmigration and takes another birth after leaving this physical body, is it necessary that we should perform Sraddha ceremony for him?  He is no more in the heavens.  To whom will the oblations reach?" 

       In the ninth Chapter of the Gita, Lord Krsna has made it very clear that those virtuous persons who perform sacrifices for the attainment of heaven attain to those worlds of enjoyments.  "They having enjoyed that spacious world of Svargas, their merit (Punya) exhausted, enter the world of the mortals; thus following the Dharma of the triad, desiring objects of desires, they attain to the state of going and returning."  This establishes the theory of attainment of heaven after death, and rebirth in the mortal world after the exhaustion of virtuous acts.  The enjoyments in heaven and peace of the soul are enhanced by the performance of Sraddha ceremony.  The suffering in worlds other than heaven according to the merits of one's own actions is mitigated by the performance of Saraddha ceremony his sons.  So in both cases the performance of Sraddha is great help.  The Pitrs remain in heaven (Pitrloka, Candraloka) for a very long period.

      According to the theory of transmigration, even if the individual is to take another birth immediaely after his death, the performance of Sraddha adds to his happiness in his new birth.  So it is the imperative duty of everybody to perform.  Sraddha ceremony for his parents and forefathers.  Sraddha ceremony should be performed with great Sraddha (faith) as long as you live.  Faith is the main support for religion. 

       In olden days the question "whether to perform Sarddha ceremony or not" did not arise at all.  Then people were full of faith and had reverence for the scriptures.  In these days when faith is almost dwindling into an airy nothing and when the list of non-performers of Saraddha has increased, others of wavering faith begin to doubt whether it is necessary to perform Saraddha or not, and whether any good will accrue out of it.  This lack of faith in the Sastras has degraded us to the present deplorable condition.  "Shradhavan labhate jnanam.... the man of faith attains knowledge and thereby immortality and eternal peace" is the declaration of the Gita.

       Some people argue and say that if a man once performs Sraddha ceremony to his forefathers at Gaya and other places of religious importance, he need not do it every year thereafter.  This is not a general rule and does not apply to all.  It applies only in expcetional cases.  If people take shelter under this exception and discontinue Sraddha ceremony by once offering, Pinda (rice-ball) etc., at Gaya, they do so out of sheer ignorance.  They consider it merely a burden to perform Sraddha ceremony and avoid it.  They have not discharged their duties properly.

       The various religious observances imposed upon mankind by the Sastras tend to purify the ignorant man.  The goal of Karma Yoga is purification of the mind.  Sraddha ceremony, being one of the obligatory duties, as per the injunctions of scriptures, also tends to purify the mind.  Besides this, the forefathers are also pleased and their good wishes and blessings tend to our material and spiritual growth.

       People who die without a son will suffer in the other worlds.  (This is, of course, not applicable in the case of Nitya Brahmacharins and spritual aspirants who tread the spiritual path alone after renouncing all selfish desires and wordly enterprises).  That is the reason why people adopt a son before their death for the due performance of Sraddha ceremonies after their death.  The Gita also supports this view.  "Patanti pitaro hyesvam luptapindodakakriyah": their forefathers fall (down to hell) deprived of the offerings of Pinda (rice-ball) and water.

       But, if a man is religious-minded and if he has discrimination and dispassion, belief in the Sastras and the Vedas, if he has led a virtuous life till the end of his life, if he has led a virtuous life till the end of his life, if he has devoted his last days in devotional practices, Japa, meditation, study, etc., (even if he has no son) he will not have a fall.  He will surely enjoy perfect peace.  He will not be affected by the dark forces of ignorace.  He is free from base attractions of the world.  The Lord takes care of his progress.  He has got self-surrender and there is no fear of downfall.  He has mental purity.  All religious observations have Citta Suddhi (purification of the mind) as their goal.  This he attains by virtue of his past Samskaras and virtuous life in previous incarnations.

       People of some communities in India spend money enormously and indiscriminately on Sraddha ceremony for show.  This is mere wastage.  Money should not be spent on luxury.  It is a delusion to think that the Pitrs will get more peace by spending more money.  Money does not count for the ease of the Pitrs, but the intensity of Bhava (attitude), with which the Saraddha is performed, counts.

       On such occasios the poor and deserving persons are to be fed sumptuously.  Their necessities of life should be attended to.  Study of scriptures should be done on such days.  Tthe performer of the Sraddha ceremony should observe spiritual discipline like Japa, meditation, Mauna, etc.  He should maintain strict Brahmacarya.  He should not spend his time in idle pursuits.  He should pray to God for the whole day.  Recitation of appropriate Vedic hymns should be done.  The story of Naciketas of the Upanisads should be studied.  The performer attains immortality.

       Revive the Vedic religion.  Tread the path of Truth.  Perform Sraddha ceremony.  Shake off this slothfulness, and indifference to the path of righteousness.  Awake, arise!  Tap the right source.  Stick to your Varnasrama Dharma.  There is no greater sacrifice than performance of one's own duty.  Study the Gita daily.  Live in the world, but be not of it.  Assimilate the teachings of the  Gita.  This is the surest way to success in life as well as God-realisation.

       May you enjoy the bliss of the Eternal.  May you attain the immortal and imperishable seat of Brahman by regular performance of your Swadharma (duty), singing Hari's names, serving the sick and the poor, following the path of righteousness, by regular study of the Vedas and by meditation on the Supreme Self!  May the Lord guide you in your activities!

Source: An article by Swamy Sivananda

21 September, 2012

Why do we celebrate Dassera?

In Indian Culture

Why do we celebrate Dassera?

Dassera - The Triumph of Good over Evil

Celebrated in the month of Ashvin (September/October) according to the Hindu calendar. Dassera is an important festival that is celebrated across the length and breadth of India.
Also known as Vijayadashami, Dassera marks Goddess Durga’s victory in battle over the mighty asura demon, Mahishasura who was part animal. The holy trinity comprising Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara had created goddess Durga to kill the powerful Mahishasura who had been harassing the devas (gods). Dassera has immense mythological significance. As per the Ramayana, Lord Rama invoked the blessings of Goddess Durga by performing ‘chandi puja’ to kill the ten-headed king of Lanka, Ravana, who had abducted his wife, Sita. Dassera marks the day on which Lord Ram vanquished Ravana. This is why effigies of Ravana are burnt at various places across India on Dassera.

In the stories above, Mahishasura and Ravana represent people who have taken the unrighteous path. They represent those who do not listen to the voice of their conscience. Lord Rama and Goddess Durga, on the other hand, represent those who live by truth. Follow the voice of their conscience. The victory of Goddess Durga and Lord Rama over Mahishasura and Ravana respectively reinforces our belief that those who live by truth acquire the strength to overcome corrupt and unrighteous forces that come in their way.
At a subtler level, Mahishasura and Ravana represent our lower, base instincts, our vasanas(desires). Goddess Durga and Lord Rama represent the nobler, divine tendencies, the immortal Spirit in each one of us. Their victories epitomise the triumph of good over evil, the destruction of vasanas and the realisation of the Self.

The nine days of worship, Navaratri, preceding Vijayadashami are divided into three days of worship for each of the three goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. These signify that the spiritual journey needs to be undertaken at all three levels of the personality - physical, emotional and intellectual. At the physical level, we must dedicate our actions to a higher purpose. At the emotional level, the yearning and feeling for our spiritual goal must be kindled. And finally, at the intellectual level, we must strive to acquire spiritual knowledge to take us closer to the Goal.

The celebration on Dassera signifies the complete sublimation of desires and the re-discovery of the Divinity within. Thus Dassera is not simply about feasting and catering to the frailties of the senses. It is a reminder to each one of us to commit ourselves to the spiritual pursuit. The ten-day festival is symbolic of the lifelong search for the Divinity within each one of us, of the battle that we fight everyday against our own lower tendencies. If we haven’t yet embarked on the pursuit, the festival serves as an inspiration to take that first step. And for those of us already on the path, it is an opportunity to take stock of the situation and maintain focus on our sadhana (spiritual pursuit).
Source: An article by Smt.Jaya Rao.

19 September, 2012

Opening your Heart to a Higher Self

       The experience of oneness-of feeling united with your concept of a higher force or with God is a common theme of most of the world's religions and many secular philosophies. In Judaism, for example, the Shemay, or central prayer, is translated from Hebrew to mean "The Lord is One." In Christianity, Jesus said, "I and my Father are One." Native Americans refer to the "Great Spirit." In Hinduism and Buddhism, the essence of God is to be found within "Tat Tvam Asi," which is Sanskrit for "Thou art That," or, "you are one with God." Atheists and agnostics can simply call it as peace.

We are not Separate from God

       In all of these religions, God is described as being omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent that is God is everywhere, all knowing and all-powerful. If God is everywhere, and if there is only one God, then we are not separate from God.

       What is it that keeps us from realizing this? Various religions and philosophies describe in different terms, but the essence is that our minds create separation and isolation between ourselves and others as well as between ourselves and God. Stated more accurately, our minds keep us from seeing that everyone and everything is simply God manifesting in different ways.

       This is not just philosophy or mysticism, for God or a higher force can be experienced. By quieting down and removing the disturbances in our mind, we can experience the underlying unity of all creation. And when we do, then we can fully enjoy the richness and diversity of life in all its manifestations.

       Most religions and cultural traditions describe people who have had a direct experience of a higher force or God. Abraham, the patriarch of both Christianity and Judaism as well as some of the non-Western traditions, is said to have experienced God differently. So did Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and many others. These people are described as having realized God or enlightenment. that is, they did not get peace from the outside themselves, they realized that they already had it when they simply stopped disturbing it. They did not become one with a higher force; they realized that they already were. They had a direct experience that, in the final analysis, we only appear to be isolated.

       They realized that the higher force or God without is the same as the higher force or God within. So can we.

       Even modern physics is developing a remarkably similar view of the universe. Quantum physics is beginning to help us understand that underneath the diversity--the various names and forms--is an essential unity.

       Physics and metaphysics (and some physicians) are beginning to find a common ground. the language of physicists and the language to mystics begin to sound very similar. In trying to describe the experiences of oneness--"being, not becoming," "a timeless moment," everything and nothing"--the words sound full of paradox, even meaningless, as people try to describe something that is beyond the limitation of words.

       Einstein's famous equation--energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, or E=MC 2 -- demonstrated that energy and matter are inter-convertible. In other words, everything in the world is a manifestation of different forms of energy. the forms change, but the underlying essence does not.

       There is an intelligence of super consciousness behind this energy, as Einstein also recognized, "I shall never belief that God plays dice with the world," he once said, echoing the French philosopher Anatole France who wrote in 1894, "Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when He did not want to sign."

       Classical physics echoed the view of the world that philosopher Rene Descartes outlined in the seventeenth century. Descartes saw the mind as separate from both nature and one's own body. In his view, the body is simply a machine that functions according to mechanical laws--a view of medicine still shared by many doctors. Because of this way of looking at the world, most of modern medical research is focused on drugs or surgery to affect bodily processes, to the neglect of our mind and spirit.

       On one level, of course, we are limited by time and space; we are separate from each other. You are you, and I am me. Moreover, we can celebrate our differences. Though we are separate from each other, we are not only separate. On another level, there is higher force working through each of us, whatever name we give to that, and that force connects us all. We feel isolated only because we believe we are separate and only separate.

       By analogy, the light from a movie projector appears on the screen is different characters, situations and dramas. However, behind this diversity is the same light, which equally illuminates the hero and the villain, the powerful and the weak, the lover and the beloved.

       We first need well-defined personal boundaries and a strong sense of autonomy before we can transcend them. When we can maintain a "double vision"--enjoying the diversity and richness of life while remaining grounded on a higher force then we can begin to free themselves of self-destructive patterns. Then we can go out into the world without being so caught up by it; without being so knocked around by it; without being destroyed by it. We can enjoy the drama without forgetting who we are.

       In 1896, a spiritual teacher named Swami Vivekananda gave a series of lectures in London on these ideas:

In one word, this ideal is that you are divine, "Thou art That...." To many this is, no doubt, a terrible ideal, and most of us think that this ideal can never be reached, but it can be realized by everyone. One may be either man or woman or child; one may belong to any race--nothing will stand as a bar to the realization of this ideal, because it is realized already, it is already there. All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark. Know that there is no darkness around you. Take your hands away there is the light which was from the beginning.

       This experience of oneness, of an expanded Self, has implications on both a cellular level and on a global level. In this context, "Love your neighbors as yourself" is a description of truth, not simply a command. All religions, all forms of worship, all types of prayer and meditation are equally valid--there are many paths to the same ultimate truth. Our higher Self is limited only by our capacity to experience it.

       When we realize that, everything is our Self in different forms, in that moment we experience that there is nothing to fear, including death. When Ramana Maharishi developed cancer (even saints and sages can get cancer and heart disease), he was surrounded by his students who pleaded, Please do not die, please do not leave us." And he replied, "Where would I go?"

       More recently, a cardiologist conducted an interesting research study giving more evidence of our interconnectedness and prayer's influences.  Dr. Randy Byrd conducted a double-blind randomized study of 393 patients at San Francisco General Hospital who were admitted to the coronary care unit during a ten-month period.  He arranged for people to pray for 192 of the patients but not for the 201 others.  These two groups were comparable in terms of age and disease severity.

       Dr. Byrd recruited people from around the country to pray for each of the 192 patients.  He asked each person to pray everyday in whatever form he or she wished.  Each patient in the experimental group received daily prayers from five to seven people, although these patients were unaware of this.

       He found that the prayed-for patients suffered fewer complications in three areas.  First, only three required antibiotics, compared to sixteen in the control group.  Second, only six had pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), compared to eighteen in the control group.  Finally, none of the prayed-for patients required intubation (artificial respiration), while twelve of the others did.  While this study is small (and twenty-three other disease measures showed no response to prayer), it suggest that we may be more interconnected than we often realize.

      In summary, then, your mind, body and spirit are all intimately interconnected.  Because of this, coronary heart disease occurs on emotional and spiritual levels as well as physical ones.  The Opening Your Heart program is designed to address all of these levels, not just the physical ones.

       If we limit our treatment only to the physical heart, then the disease tends to come back again and again--or the treatments may be worse than the illness.  If we also address the emotional and spiritual dimensions, then the physical heart often begins to heal as well.

       You can use the techniques in this book (the author's book, Dr Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease) to open your heart in emotional and spiritual ways that can help  transform your life for the better.  Although we have the technology to evaluate the physical improvements that result from this program, medical science has not yet found a way to objectively measure the emotional and spiritual healing that can occur on this program.  But you can experience it for yourself.  

Source: Dr Dean Ornish, from Dr Dean Ornish's Programme for Reversing Heart Diseases.