Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Worship of Lalitha: a Tantra of beauty, bliss and immortality.
Lalitha Thripurasundari is the most widely worshipped aspect of Devi in South India. Her emblem is Srichakra. Worship of the same and chanting the Lalitha Sahasranama are very popular. The Panchadasakshari is Her very powerful mantra and many desire to get initiated into the same.
The Sri Vidya is a branch of Saktha Tantrism which considers Lalitha as the supreme form of the Mahadevi. It is prominent in South India in many variants, but none claim to be different than the others.
Just like Durga and Kali represent the power of Devi, Lalitha represents the aspect of beauty. So she is depicted very beautiful and her worship is also very refined.
Lalithopakhyana is a part of Brahmanda Purana. It is said there that Lalitha Devi manifested herself in the midst of a disc of extreme brilliance, that arose from the “havan” when Indra was performing a sacrifice in honour of her.
The architect of the gods, Viswakarma, built a grand city called Sripuram on the Meru mountain, specially for her sake. She resides there with her spouse Siva Kameswara.
Lalitha is usually depicted slightly red in colour (like dawn) and extraordinarily beautiful. In her four hands, she holds a bow of sugarcane, arrows, the ankusa and the pasa (noose). One of her feet, usually the left, is shown resting on a pedestal, made of diamond.
The sugarcane bow represents the mind. This shows we experience all joy through our mind. The bow is an instrument which discharges the arrows. The same way, the mind is the instrument which shoots the sense organs towards the sense-objects.
The arrows are the pancha tanmatras, the five subtle elements of akasa(ether), vayu (air), agni (fire), apas (water) and prithvi (earth).
She is the power that enegises and controls our mind and sense organs. This is the idea.
The pasa (noose) is the binding attachment (raga).
The ankusa is the anger (krodha) or aversion which hurts.
It is her power which animates our attachments and aversions.
If we forget her, she can bind us with (raga)pasa and pierce us with (krodha) ankusa.
If we take refuge in her, she can withdraw them into her hands and free us from their torment.
The form and pattern of the deity Lalita is called Srichakra – this is a yantra, a two-dimensional pattern which can be drawn. This is a complicated geometrical figure of fortythree triangles. They are formed by the intersection of nine triangles,five with apexes downward and four with apexes upward. This is surrounded by concentric circles with eight and sixteen lotus petals. The entire figure is skirted by a square of three lines with openings in the middle of ech side. There is a dot, called Bindu, in the center of the diagram.
The bindu represents the combination of Shiva and Shati, as also the first throb, which gradually gathers momentum and gets concentrated into a polarization of Shiva and Shakti, but continuing to keep the original Shiva-Shakti combination also. The process repeats continuously resulting in various levels of creation, which are depicted by the different triangles and the lotus petals.
The three dimensional form of Srichakra is called Meru.
Regular worship of srichakra is considered very auspicious and is said to yield any result the devotee (rightfully) desires.
The Tantra is an initiation, a death to profane world and a rebirth into a sacred world of united and immortal consciousness.
Let us consider briefly the causes of incomplete knowledge and how it makes our present human condition. And how this makes up our ego, and its consequences of fear, lust, anger, greed, delusion, pride and envy. And how we can free ourselves. And what freedom means.
1. Causes of incomplete knowledge.
Things are not what they seem to be.
How do we perceive the world around us? Through our senses. Through sound, touch, form, taste and smell, or through thinking. All these six faculties are filters.
Let us look at the nature of these filters.
SABDA = sound: We HEAR only what is in this room. We cant hear what is far away. Also we can hear only the sounds in the frequency range of some 15 cycles/sec to 15000. We don't hear the ultra or infra sounds which some animals can.
SPARSA= touch: We feel the TOUCH only within a few millimeters of our surface. Beyond that we don't feel any thing. Our skin acts as a sharp cut-off filter within and outside of the body surface.
ROOPA=form: We SEE nearby objects much bigger than far away objects. Also we can only see one octave of wavelengths in the entire electro-magnetic spectrum. Also we see things only from a single direction. We cannot see a thing from all angles, and all distances. How would an object look if we see it from all sides at once? From all distances? With all magnifications? Would it be the same as our normal vision ? How does a spinning top appear with pictures on it? How would the world appear if we had X ray vision? Would our skin based cosmetics industry survive?
RASA=taste: We TASTE only what is on our tongue.
GANDHA=smell: We SMELL only what enters our noses.
MANAS=mind: Our MIND reproduces these sensations through remembering, and can some times overcome some limitations of sensory filters by the logical thinking. Yet, it cannot penetrate other minds and read what is in other thoughts as if the thoughts were its own. It can remember the past and sometimes the future too; but that is rare. Thus the mind as an instrument has its many limitations. It is also a filter.
The world we are perceiving is not really as it seems to be. So, our experience is an illusion. All the senses and the mind are distorting it in so many ways. They are so immediate, so intimately connected to us that we do not even suspect that our perceptions are wrong and that the world we experience bears no resemblance to the reality. It is not what is really out there.
What we know or can know through senses or reasoning is infinitesimal. What we do not see is far more important than what we see.
2. Ego is illusion coming from incompleteness.
Ego is the idea: this is me, these are mine; this is not me, these are not my people.
Given the filters of our perceptions, is it not natural that we give importance to local experiences and no importance at all to things far away? The ideas of I and mine, that this is what I am and these are my people, forms the core of ego. All my life I try to protect these ideas.
We understand that it is NOT our fault that we have the ideas of I and mine so deeply embedded in us. But it is in the very nature of our senses that these concepts are embedded.
If we wish to overcome the limitations of ego, we have to let go of our attachments to senses and the information they bring. Just as I can't get an idea of a carpet if I attach a microscope to my eye even if I research for a thousand years, I cannot get an idea of the universe with the limiting vision. I have to let go of the microscope; I have to let go of the senses. Then only I get a chance to perceive the reality. The freedom we talk about is the freedom from the senses, or attachment to sense based information.
The separation between I and world, mine and not mine comes from the local nature of senses.
Concepts of I and mine make the passions. How? I see some thing. I don't know what it is. Fear comes. I like it, I want it, Desire/Lust is born. If I don't get what I want, I get Anger, feel helpless, and hunger for power comes. If I get what I want, I don't want to let go of it, possessiveness comes. I get so used to it, I can't even live without it. Delusion comes. I get the pride I have it; and jealousy some has it I don't have it. So, all these passions are born out of I and mine.
Also, I judge the information I receive based on what is good or bad for me. I notice that good brings me happiness, reduces misery, and preserves my identity, that is, maintains my separateness from the world. Bad is the opposite of these things.
Judgments form the core of the structures of ego. Hatred, doubt, fear, shame, aversion, family, race, conduct: these 8 passions form the sub-structures of ego.
We HATE something or someone who brings misery to us.
We DOUBT if what is in front of us is good or bad.
We FEAR animals or persons unknown to us, who speak a foreign tongue.
We are ASHAMED of doing things we really want to do.
We develop AVERSION to things we judge as bad.
We form the idea of our FAMILY and try to do everything for them.
We identify with our RACE and pronounce others inferior or bad.
We believe that we have to conform to the norms of CONDUCT without questioning for fear of punishment or rejection.
Thus we develop the emotions of Hatred, Doubt, Fear, Shame, Aversion, Family, Race and Conduct from trying to protect the ideas of I and mine. These are the sub structures of ego. All because of the nature of our sense-based information!
Ego is separation, of the one reality into two polar opposites: Subject and object. Ego is illusion; illusion is based on sensory information which filters reality. Ego breaks down if
1. we understand the nature of senses,
2. the need to let go of our attachment to senses,
3. train ourselves to work free of filters and limitations,
4. and finally let go of sense limits by suspending
All these are the objects of Goddess worship, and Tantra of Lalitha.
This is exactly what Lalitha's form teaches us; she holds the five senses in one hand and the mind which seeks them in another. " Mano roopa ikshu kodanda, pancha tanmatra sayaka." Yoga is keeping mind separate from senses which bring in limited senses to couple with unlimited senses. This is what we mean by saying that we die to the profane world, to be born into the divine prospect of immortal beauty.
3. SOHAM: Object is Subject.
Object is mirrored in the Subject.
Every thing that we see or know is mapped into our brain where thoughts are our first reality. The world of our perceptions has no reality higher than our thoughts, which are themselves unreal. The objective world is mirrored in the Subject. Remove the Subject. Who observes? How can there be an observed thing or phenomenon without an observer? The Subjective I implies the objective world of experience. The object is like a mirror image of the subject; it is the subject. The subject and object are mutual mirror images.
Ego is the deep rooted idea that the seer and the seen are different. It is caused by illusion; it is an illusion. It has no basis. Just as nothing is left after we peel off successive layers of onion, so also ego vanishes when successive layers of ego like hate, doubt, fear, shame, aversion, family, race and conduct are peeled off. Once the ego is even temporarily suspended, subject merges into object, all separation is lost. That is being in tune with our true nature.
(Even with the ego intact, one can argue and establish that the subject and object are one. How? How is I=World? Is it not egoistic and megamania to say that I am the world? Logically, if A implies B and also B implies A, then it is true that A is the same as B, A is identical to B. I want to prove that Object and Subject are one. Object for me is the world. I am a part of this world; so Object implies Subject. If I do not exist, will the world exist for me ? So, I imply the world. The Subject implies the Object. World contains me and I contain the world. These are precisely the necessary and sufficient conditions for the equation "I = World" to hold).
These considerations go to suggest that our awareness is a mirror. It reflects what is in front of it. The mirror is itself never seen, unless it is unclean; but then it is no more a mirror. The world is mapped onto the canvas of our awareness. The canvas is the brain.
What do I see if I stood in front of a mirror? My own image. If I am wearing a hat, I see myself with it. If I had 10 heads like the Ravana, I see my image having 10 heads. If I had 10 heads, 20 hands and 20 legs like Maha Kali, my image will have the same things. Now 10 heads, 20 hands, 20 legs can belong to 10 different people. If I were 10 different people myself, I will see my reflection as 10 different people. Just one more step on the same lines; if I was the whole world and stood in front of a pure mirror, I would see the world as my own image; I=World. No matter how much variety I see 'out' there, it is all me only.
Keeping the ego created by our senses we can still appreciate that what we see is ourselves, however much it appears to be different from us. That is yoga=union: what we see is what we are. The world seen through filters is full of play. If I remain a witness even when I participate in the drama of the world, I can practice yoga of play, like Krishna.
4. Yoga Aaraamam
Yoga is both play and rest.
This play aspect of Yoga is very interesting. Krishna was said to have enjoyed playing with 16000 milk maids. Let me stop and do a little calculation. Assuming I spend one night with a woman, I need 16000/365= 50 years to be with all the 16000. Assuming again that I start from the age of 15, I would be 65 by the time I finished the whole lot. How could I remain a child during all this time ? What a prurient model for the repressed society of India of 1998! Did he drink also ? Perhaps. There was no prohibition then. Do the 1000 million Hindus care ? How come he could have delivered the epic poem Bhagavad-Gita to Arjuna in the battlefield of deciding between right and wrong (Dharma kshetra) and between action and inaction (kuru kshetra)? Let us understand this play: when life is looked upon as play, all is rest.
In the neck, there is a 16 petal lotus; at the crown, a 1000 petal lotus. If we join lines from each petal of neck lotus to the petal in the crown lotus, we get 16000 lines. Each line is a path in the brain; it represents a thought pattern. What Krishna did then was to watch each of these thought patterns as erotic play described as enjoying with the milk maids. Why milk maids? Milk comes from breasts. So the loving interaction is at the heart level, the abodes of Sri Devi the protectress and Sri Lakshmi, the mother who gives plenty. Immunity from diseases and nourishment for the child both come from the breasts. So the milk maids.
The story goes that in the circle dance, The wheel of Sri there was a Krishna between each pair of milk maids. And between each pair of Krishnas there was a milk maid. Were there 16000 Krishnas then or did he clone himself that many times?
The word Krishna like the word Kali, means a dark, unknown power. The power of time, moving silently like a river through the great void of space. It is the great silence. Krishna is the silence which watches as the subject, and Kali the silence in which the observer is absent. The circle dance then means that between each pair of thoughts, there is subjective silence observing the neighboring thoughts, and between each pair of silences, there is a thought craving for the neighboring silences.
The story of Rasa leela of Krishna with the milk maids is a story of silence and thoughts alternating, in an erotic playfulness. The silence craves for thoughts; restless thoughts crave for silence. Eros, craving, is the fundamental nature of silence; and Thanatos, the death wish is the fundamental nature of thoughts. Doesn't each thought tend to end itself ? That is its death wish, the suicidal tendency of thoughts.
5. Life is death
Life and death are continuous experiences of time flow.
Life seems so continuous, and death seems so final, like a full stop. We are not afraid of living, but we are scared to death of the creepy death. Somehow, death seems so final. Point of no return. Dead end. One moment I am there. Next, I am gone, inexplicably. What in me goes away, where, at death ? Where do these fears come from? But before that, who are we?
What do we consist of? Flesh, blood, bones, marrow, and billions of living cells. This is what science teaches us. Millions of living cells are dying and millions born every second in our very bodies. I somehow think that I am an individual, though I consist of billions of living cells. To them, I am God, not even aware of their existence.
Have I given birth to these lives? Have I named them? Married them? Cared for their off spring? Do I feel any responsibility to these billions of lives whose community life is what I think I am ? The immunity cells are checking every cell entering our body boundaries with questions like " Do you belong here? Do you have a valid visa? A work permit ? Have you come to enrich or poison our society ? " If the answers they receive are not satisfactory, the visitors are killed and disposed of. Am I even aware of the terrible wars going on between my immunity cells and their foreign visitors ?
Every moment, a part of me is dying. Every moment a part of me is being born. Am I experiencing my dying part ? Real death is never experienced nor experienceable. Only life is observable, experienceable. My life is a river. Old water is going out, new water is coming in. I am dying every moment. I am being born every moment. With every out-going breath I die. With every in coming breath, I get life. Every thought in me is making chemicals called hormones, or catacholins or adrenalin. They help nourish me, or put me in altered states of awareness, ready to fight or run away with sudden bursts of energy.
Can I show you that "me' sucking milk from my mother's breasts? That "me" is dead and gone, as surely as I would be when my body burns on the funeral pyre. Can I show you that "me' when I was a 7 year old going to school now ? In a picture, yes. In reality, no. That is also gone, that is also dead, never never to return. My childhood is dead, yet I continue to live. My youth is dead, yet I continue to live. Life seems to go on merrily without interruption through so much of unremitting death all around. Is death a finality then ? Is it not just another way of looking at life ? Could it be that death and life are synonymous ?
The statement "I am living continuously" is completely equivalent to the statement "I am dying continuously". Death then is not such a finality after all. Because I am dying and I am living at the same time. Just like a river, I have a name. The water is not the same, nothing is the same, there is no constancy. The only constancy seems to be the concepts of "I" and "me". Even the things that belong to me are not constant. For some time, yes. Not for all time. All the things I own, all my relationships, all have to fade away. I cannot own any thing or any one forever.
Rama told Sita once: like a pair of logs that were drifting and came together in a stream, we came together. We continue together for some time. And some whirlpool comes along and one of us sinks in it. The other continues along.
The only string that runs through all my life/death experiences is the subjective "I" and the subjective "me". That seems to be the only reality, the only constant.
Life and death are two names for one process, called change. We can call it life, we can call it death. Does it matter ? They not only co-exist, but in fact they are one and the same. This is a very important realization to have. Then the fear of death goes away once for all.
Let me tell you about a dream I had. I was a king. I wanted to go for a royal hunt. My wives told me to be careful. I was riding an elephant. Dogs were barking and following. Some men were following with drums, others with fires burning at the end of sticks. The forest we were going through became very dense. I sighted a tiger. I shot it with an arrow. It got hit, and jumped on me. I narrowly escaped death. I woke up, perspiring.
Now that I am fully awake, I ask myself the following questions and get the answers. Who was the king ? I. Who were his wives ? I. Who was the elephant on which I was riding? I. Who were the barking dogs ? I. Who were the men with drums and with lights ? I. Who was the forest? I. Who was the tiger ? I. Who killed the tiger ? I. Who was killed ? I. Who was afraid of whom ? I was afraid of myself. Who am I now ? None of these things. Such is the nature of illusion and such is the nature of knowledge. Can we say then that knowledge is superior to illusion? A thumping No!
In my state of dreaming all these things were true enough. I had reason to be careful, I had reason to be afraid. But once I am awake, I have no reason to be afraid any more. I realize that I lived in two states; dream and awake. Both denied the knowledge of the other state. In my dream, if the tiger told me, " Hey king, don't be scared, I am going to eat you, but you will not die", I would surely have my doubts. I would suspect the motives of the tiger. When I am awake ? I could accept it with laughter, playing Siva, who wins over death ( Mrityum Jaya).
Let us end this discussion on philosophy and move on to a presentation of adoring the Goddess, preparing Nectar, Her milk. Let us drink that, to get immortality.