Prasadam: Food offered to God

What do the Shiva Purana and the Bhagwad Gita tell us about prasadam? How is offering food to God related to bhakti (devotion)? To find out, please read my new article from the Speaking Tree section of the Economic Times.

Source: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-speaking-tree/food-for-the-divine/

Aims of human life and their relation to Astrology

I have already talked about the four aims of human life in a previous post. Interestingly, principles from Vedic astrology can be used to learn what the four aims of life involve in the Hindu way of living. Moreover, some astrological principles can be learned and applied even if we do not believe in future telling.

The four aims of life include dharma (righteousness and fulfilment of duties), artha (wealth), kama (desires and fulfilment of dreams), and moksha (liberation). Out of these, eventual liberation or reaching God happens to be the ultimate aim of Hindu life. And artha and kama may have to be coupled with dharma to maintain the former two objectives on the right track.

Everything belonging to Taurus-Virgo-Capricorn (artha trikona or wealth triangle; earth signs) can be categorized within artha.  Accordingly, earning money, employment, professional growth, aspiration for recognition, honesty, discipline, perseverance, perfection, and a realistic or down-to-earth approach in life are artha influences.

Communication, expression, aspiration for emotional relationships, entrepreneurship, owning a business, team work, nurturing artistic talent, technological pursuits, aspiration for a new electronic gadget, philanthropy, and a logical-analytical approach to problem solving are Gemini-Libra-Aquarius influences (kama trikona or desire triangle; air signs). Accordingly, they belong to the domain of kama [1].

Dharma includes the love of God, creativity, education, work ethics, a traditional outlook, leadership, aspiration for learning philosophy, enthusiasm, kindness, guidance by a spiritual guru, and an idealistic-creative approach in life, which are all Aries-Leo-Sagittarius influences (dharma trikona or righteousness triangle; fire signs). On the other hand, seeking happiness, finding peace in the world, caring for humanity, research, aspiration for learning occult, transformation, meditation, renunciation, and an emotional-intuitive approach in life are moksha objectives, belonging to the domain of Cancer-Scorpio-Pisces (moksha trikona or liberation triangle; water signs; [2]).

[1] We should carefully note that kama in the context of the four aims of life means desire, not lust, and does not have an inherent negative connotation. On the other hand, in the Bhagavad Gita, when Lord Krishna describes kama in the context of the three gates to hell, he is talking about lust (16:21). Context can definitely change the meaning of a word.

[2] Every astrology chart has a balance of qualities from the four types of astrological signs. Relatively more planets in the liberation triangle does not directly correlate with higher chances of liberation. Being born in a specific sign of the zodiac will not supposedly create an advantage (in any sphere of life) over individuals from the other zodiac signs; the different signs probably reflect differences in disposition.

Vishistadvaita: What does “knowledge” mean?

Sri Ramanujacharya has had a permanent and one of the strongest impacts on the Hindu mind when it comes to contemporary Bhakti Yoga. Though the differences in the philosophical models of Advaita and Vishistadvaita may not be so obvious and relevant in everyday worship of our favorite form of God, they are useful if we wish to examine the diversity of the Vedantic traditions.

In Advaita, our soul (jivatma) and the Supreme Soul (paramatma) are identical in essence. And jnana (spiritual knowledge) is usually defined as the realization of our oneness with the Supreme Soul. However, in vishistadvaita, our soul is the body of Bhagavan. This difference makes God our antaryami, the divine being who resides within our heart and controls the universe but still remains unknown to the soul because of his maya. Accordingly, for this devotional school, jnana refers to the realization that our soul is eternally dependent on Bhagavan and that God is the sole reason of our existence. And in place of saying, “Everything is Brahman,” devotees of this school reflect a feel of surrender, “Bhagavan is everything for us.”

When discussing Hinduism, it is important to note that there are many schools in this liberal “way of life.” And for perfect harmony, it may not be fair to impose the basic principles of our favorite school on the followers of the neighboring school.

Reference: Gita Bhashya by Sri Ramanujacharya

Karma Yoga

Whenever we make a decision at our workplace, select eatables from a menu in a restaurant, or pick our attire for the day in the morning, we perform karma. We have full right over our karma, and God guarantees this entitlement in Hindu thought. However, what happens as a consequence of our karma lies outside our sphere of influence. While we may gain big profits from our professional decision, we may also acquire a loss; while our selection of food may bring us nourishment, it may also cause disease; and while our selected attire may impress our colleagues, it may spoil our interactions in a meeting. For every possible action, how the universe reacts and what we gain at the end of the day is decided by the Divine alone. We have no right over the results or “fruits,” as they are often termed. Though the Lord’s reply is dependent on our own karma and favorable fruits are promised for good deeds, the calculation of response by the universe incorporates the aggregate of all karma we have performed in the past and the present. This is why performance of a good deed may not bring us immediate favors. But every action is noted down in our mind and by the universe, which, in reality, may not be two separate diaries.

The karmic sequence, also known as the wheel of karma, goes on forever. We perform karma, enjoy the fruits when they are favorable, and weep as they appear in the form of penalties. Then, according to our karma, we are reborn at a new location under new circumstances or even make it to a non-human species. And this process of accumulating karma or impressions continues in every birth, for we are bound by nature to perform actions. However, if we ever become tired of this cycle, there is an easy way to break it and attain never-ending bliss. We can use the laws of creation as blessings by a simple move—by renouncing our attachment to the fruits that our actions produce. And this surrender of the “outcome of our karma” to God is known as Karma Yoga.

Surrender of the fruits of our karma refers to performance of all actions with level-headedness in success or failure. It is about making a professional decision with little focus on profits but with a higher vision in mind regarding the company as well as society. It is about selecting food items from a menu with no concern for taste but their nutrition value and simplicity in preparation. And it is about choosing our attire with no heed to fashion or “what others will think of us.” The logic is simple: We can surrender karma to God only when they are absolutely perfect according to our capability and understanding and when we have already scrutinized how our actions would affect universal dharma. By the time Karma Yoga gets perfected, as the Gita says, we achieve complete elimination of all our desires, equanimity in joy and sorrow, control of all our senses, and complete disinterestedness to the world. This position leaves our mind with no choice except to firmly focus on the Supreme Self.

While renouncing the results is not the only way to break the cycle of rebirths and free ourselves, Karma Yoga is said to suit people who desire God realization but have responsibilities or dreams in the material world and find it difficult to develop love for God. Because running away from our responsibilities and leaving our dreams unfulfilled for spirituality may be devastating, if we feel that establishing an industry is a better way of helping others and it interests us more than remembering God (bhakti) or meditating on him for knowledge (jnana), we must set up a manufacturing facility. And we can also work for both realization and our material dream in unison with Karma Yoga till we are ready for the final surrender.

Text is excerpted from Devotional Hinduism: Creating Impressions for God; iUniverse Inc, 2008.

Workplace Spirituality: Remembrance

Hinduism has a lot to say about workplace spirituality, especially when an entire section of the Bhagavad Gita, the yoga of karma, is focused upon it. However, to trigger karma yoga, we need a habit — a habit of remembering God, without which it can be difficult to renounce the outcome of our work (karma-phala).

In fact, workplace spirituality involves a delicate balance between greed and remembrance of God; the two cannot exist together in the same mind at the same moment. Once we recognize that God is omnipresent and always watches us from within our heart, we may become more vigilant in making ethical decisions and may develop the power to counter corporate greed and corruption, a monstrous form of greed. The more often we remember God, the better are our chances of triggering karma yoga involuntarily.

If you remember your favorite form of God while you work, even for a moment during your 8-10 hour shift, please feel free to share your views on this blog. When/how do you remember him (or her)?

Mahatma Gandhi and Karma Yoga

For progress in karma yoga, we need a foundation: (1) righteousness in our karma (actions), (2) lack of attachment to the results of our karma, and (3) faith in God,* who grants the results of all karma. Gandhi’s approach in India’s independence movement demonstrated his perfection in karma yoga.

“For Gandhi, independence of India by expelling members of the imperialist team out of India by any means was not the objective; as his Hind Swaraj says, removing any attachment of the Indian native to the British way of thinking and living, which he perceived as the reason for British presence in India, was the primary motive.” This spiritual action plan was fully harmonized with the Bhagavad Gita, which holds that “controlling sense organs by force is not ample for spiritual rise, but all desires have to be purged from the mind.” And due to Gandhi’s spiritual goal, alignment with dharma, and faith in God, “only righteous tools like satyagraha, compassion, and ahimsa could be used to gain independence of thought and territory from the British.”

“History tells us that there were instances that could have accelerated the independence movement by means that did not appear to be righteous, but he did not utilize them. Because of a higher focus on the morality of the chosen path than the object itself, he supposedly did not have a deadline in his mind to accomplish the task of independence.” This disattachment to results, no matter how significant they appear to an observer in the material world, is the key to our attaining perfection in karma yoga.

While Gandhi will always be remembered as a karma yogi, we can not ignore the devotional colors he had added to his yoga by coupling it with other spiritual practices including chanting, fasting, writing, and remembrance of God during work.

Happy Gandhi Jayanti!

*Though karma yoga works for an atheist as well, faith in God is required in the popular version(s) of karma yoga, supported by the Gita.

All quoted text is from Devotional Hinduism: Creating Impressions for God (iUniverse, 2008).