Introduction

hayagr3Soon after the creation, the demons Madhu and Kaitabha had stolen the Vedas and had wrought havoc on the life of others. During this period the supreme Lord Sriman Narayana incarnated as Lord Hayagreeva to kill these two demons and restore the stolen Vedas to the Creator, Lord Sri Brahma.
In 1267 AD a great saint, poet and logician by the name Sri Venkatanatha was born, who was later to be known as Sri Venkatadesika. During his times, he was considered to be “Vishnughantavatar” ( an incarnation of the famous bell of Lord Srinivasa (Tirupati Balaji). One might wonder how an inanimate object such as a bell could be born as an avatar, but the fact is, in Vaikunthaloka everything is animate. The objective of his incarnation was to re-establish ‘Sanathanadharma’.
The people, during this period, were highly influenced by the ‘Advaita’ philosophy of Sri Adi Shankara. People had misinterpreted the ‘Mayavada’ of Sri Adi Shankara and his ‘Mahavakya’ – “Aham Bramhasmi” meaning the ‘self-realized’ and all knowing. They started claiming their own bodies as that of the all-knowing ‘Brahman’ and started throwing away the idols from the temples into wells and had actually succeeded in doing so.
Sri Venkatadesika had composed hundreds of stotras and many other philosophical works such as a commentary on Vishishta Advaita, Brahmasutras, many natakas and kavyas of which, two of them viz., ‘Yadavabhudaya’ and ‘Paduka Sahasra’ are very popular and acclaimed works. Yadavabhudaya is a composition consisting of 2400 verses and it speaks of the entire life of Lord Sri Krishna. Paduka Sahasra, meaning one thousand slokas on the Padukas (wooden sandals), is a rendition on Lord Sri Ranganatha. This rendition was a spontaneous composition done in 3 hours during a competition and this work, to date, stands unparalleled.
He was also known by the titles “Sarvatantraswatantra” and “Vedanta Acharya” that were conferred to him by none other than the Divine Mother Goddess Ranganayaki of Sri Rangam (in Tamil Nadu). He lived up to 101 years and did a great service to Hinduism. He not only protected important scriptures from being destroyed by frequent invasion from Muslim kings but also consolidated the Hindu rule by bringing together the hitherto divided Hindu kings and succeeded in driving away invaders like Malik Gafur and the likes.
His Guru initiated him into Garuda Mantra at the age of 20. He went to a secluded place at Thiruvaheendrapuram (in Tamil Nadu) and did several lakhs of Japa in 6 months and had the grand vision of Sri Garuda appearing before him and initiated him into Hayagreeva Mantra. He performed the japa of this mantra also at the same spot and had the fortune of the vision of Lord Sriman Narayana in the form of Lakshmi Hayagreeva. Sri Desika went into raptures following this vision and the most popular and powerful hymn known as the “Hayagreeva Stotram” started flowing like nectar in praise of Lord Sri Lakshmi Hayagreeva. The strength of this mantra is to enhance the learning faculty. If well imparted, it will be of immense help to the millions of little children who are burdened with heavy workloads in the schools and a stiff academic competition.
The recitation of this mantra is begun with salutations to Sri Venkatadesika to seek his blessings, which goes as follows:
śrīmān venkata nāthāryaħ kavitārkika kesarī|
vedāntācārya varyo me sannidhattām sadā hŕdi||
Translation: I pray to Sri Venkatanatha who is a lion among poets and logicians and who is a great teacher of vedanta and may he be ever present in our heart.

Hayagriva sthothram- Hymn on the Horse faced Lord

This is Hymn in thirty two slokas on Hayagriva, the Supreme God of learning in Vaishnava Sampradaya. About this incarnation of Bhagavan, the purana narrates that a demon took away all the Vedas from four-faced Brahma and Bhagavan as Hayagriva killed him and gave them back to Brahma. God Dakshina-murti, Saraswati and sages like Vyasa shine with the knowledge bestowed to them by Hayagriva and are worshipped by others for attaining knowledge. The tradition about Sri Vedanta Desika is that he meditated on Hayagriva on the Hill Oshadhadri on the banks of River Garuda repeating the Mantra. The Lord appeared before him and blessed him with all knowledge. Thus Sri Desika became the master of all sciences and arts-“Sarva-tantra-svatantra”. All words were before him so that he could choose and use them as he wanted. The devotion of Sri Desika to Hayagriva was so great that hayagriva-stotra is the first of his lyrics. His prayer to the Lord Hayagriva that He must always shine in his heart and take His sear on the throne of the tip of his tongue so that his words will always be graceful, successful and pleasing.

Hayagreeva Stotram [excerpts – full stotram is given below]

jñānānanda mayam devam nirmalasphatikākŕtim |
ādhāram sarva vidyānām hayagrīvam upāsmahe || 1 ||
Translation: We worship Lord Hayagreeva who is the very embodiment of jnana (knowledge) and aanandha (bliss) whose figure is spotless and lustrous like the crystal and who is the sole source and storehouse of all fields of knowledge.
svatassiddham śuddhasphatika maňibhūbhŕt pratibhatam
sudhā sadhrīcībhir dhutibhir avadāta tribhuvanam |
anantaistrayyantair anuvihita heśā halahalam
hatā śeśā vadyam hayavadana mīdī mahi mahaħ || 2 ||
Translation: We praise the Lord who has the Horse face, who is effulgence manifested in a material form, who is like a spotless crystal mountain that has spontaneously risen to this shape, who spreads nectar like radiation brightening all the worlds, whose neighing sounding ‘Hala’ ‘Hala’ is rightly regarded as the voice of the infinite world (the Veda) and whose voice is capable of wiping away all our grief.
samāhārassāmnām pratipadamŕcām dhāma yajuśām
layaħ pratyūhānām laharivitatirvedhajaladheħ |
kathā darpakśubhyat kathakakula kolāha labhavam
haratvantar dhvāntam hayavadana heśā halahalaħ || 3 ||
He may be described as the complete cluster of all Sama Veda, an exact solid equivalent of Rig Veda, a reservoir of the Yajur Veda Mantras, the sure annihilator of all obstacles that beset our studies. His neighing with “hala-hala” sound looks like the wave sequence of the ocean of “Jnana”. May His neighing remove the darkness of our nescience that results from the uproar of the vain talking wranglers churned in praise of participation in fights.
prācī sandhyā kācidantar niśāyāħ
prajñādŕśter añjana śrīrapūrvā |
vaktrī vedān bhātu me vāji vaktrā
vāgī śākhyā vāsudevasya mūrtiħ || 4 ||
Translation: May I be enabled to envision the horse faced form of ParaVasudeva which form is the wonderful eastern sunrise to the internal darkness of Ignorance, the matchless Anjana (kaajal – the black paste used to colour the eyes) that can enable all things to be revealed to one’s intellect as the competent Instructor of the Vedhas and the God of learning.
viśuddha vijñāna ghana svarūpam
vijñāna viśrāňana baddha dīkśam |
dayānidhim dehabhŕtām śaraňyam
devam hayagrīvam aham prapadye || 5 ||

Translation: I surrender myself to Lord Hayagreeva who is totally pure knowledge in solid material form who has taken the vow to grant supreme wisdom to the world and who is the sure refuge to all beings.
apauruśeyair api vākprapañcaiħ
adyāpi te bhūti madŕśta pārām |
stuvannaham mugdha iti tvayaiva
kāruňyato nātha katākśaňīyaħ || 6 ||
Translation: Oh Lord! The extent of your greatness cannot be comprehended till this moment by the veda’s vastness which are without a begining and which were not composed by anyone. And yet I venture to sing of this subject. You alone have to kindly show me everything for the simple reason that I am an Immature novice.
dākśiňya ramyā giriśasya mūrtiħ
devī sarojāsana dharmapatnī |
vyāsādayo’pi vyapadeśca vācaħ
sphuranti sarve tava śakti leśaiħ || 7 ||
Translation: Shiva’s south faced moorthi (Dakshinamoorthi) or the wife of Brahma deva (Saraswati) born in a lotus or Vyasa of great fame praised by all. All these and others (worshipped as Gods of learning who will grant wisdom) have reached a worthy name and position only by receiving a few droplets of your great power.
mando’bhaviśyan niyatam viriñco
vācām nidhe vañcita bhāga dheyaħ |
daityā panītān dayayaiva bhūyo’pi
adhyāpayiśyo nigamān na cet tvam || 8 ||
Oh Lord! Who is the veritable source of variegated knowledge? What would have happened to Brahma if you had not mercifully restored to him the Vedas stolen away from him by the Asura? He would have merely sat as a simpleton having been deprived of all halo and fortune.
vitarka dolām vyavadhūya satve
bŕhaspatim vartayase yatastvam |
tenaiva deva tridaśeśvarāňām
aspŕśta dolāyitamādhi rājyam || 9 ||
Oh Lord! You conferred on Brihaspati a stead fastness in wisdom, devoid of doubt and delusion. Only because of this help of Yours the holity of devas proceeds on even keels without dislocation.
agnou samiddhārciśi saptatantoħ
ātasthivān mantramayam śarīram |
akhaňda sārair haviśām pradānaiħ
āpyāyanam vyoma sadām vidhatse || 10 ||
When Samidha is consigned into fire which burns with flame You remain the very soul to the Mantras. The taste of havis is pleasing to devas. It is all because of You.
yanmūlamīdŕk pratibhāti tatvam
yā mūlamāmnāya mahādrumāňām |
tatvena jānanti viśuddha satvāħ
tvām akśarām akśara mātŕkām te || 11 ||
Sathrikas (Sadhus) rightly recognize You as the essential truth of pranava which is indeed the mother of alphabets which is root of the large trees that the Vedas are and these Vedas are the basic book of creation. You thus remain the cause of all.

||śrī hayagrīva stotram||

śrīmān venkata nāthāryaħ kavitārkika kesarī|
vedāntācārya varyo me sannidhattām sadā hŕdi||jñānānanda mayam devam nirmalasphatikākŕtim |
ādhāram sarva vidyānām hayagrīvam upāsmahe || 1 ||

svatassiddham śuddhasphatika maňibhūbhŕt pratibhatam
sudhā sadhrīcībhir dhutibhir avadāta tribhuvanam |
anantaistrayyantair anuvihita heśā halahalam
hatā śeśā vadyam hayavadana mīdī mahi mahaħ || 2 ||

samāhārassāmnām pratipadamŕcām dhāma yajuśām
layaħ pratyūhānām laharivitatirvedhajaladheħ |
kathā darpakśubhyat kathakakula kolāha labhavam
haratvantar dhvāntam hayavadana heśā halahalaħ || 3 ||

prācī sandhyā kācidantar niśāyāħ
prajñādŕśter añjana śrīrapūrvā |
vaktrī vedān bhātu me vāji vaktrā
vāgī śākhyā vāsudevasya mūrtiħ || 4 ||

viśuddha vijñāna ghana svarūpam
vijñāna viśrāňana baddha dīkśam |
dayānidhim dehabhŕtām śaraňyam
devam hayagrīvam aham prapadye || 5 ||

apauruśeyair api vākprapañcaiħ
adyāpi te bhūti madŕśta pārām |
stuvannaham mugdha iti tvayaiva
kāruňyato nātha katākśaňīyaħ || 6 ||

dākśiňya ramyā giriśasya mūrtiħ
devī sarojāsana dharmapatnī |
vyāsādayo’pi vyapadeśca vācaħ
sphuranti sarve tava śakti leśaiħ || 7 ||

mando’bhaviśyan niyatam viriñco
vācām nidhe vañcita bhāga dheyaħ |
daityā panītān dayayaiva bhūyo’pi
adhyāpayiśyo nigamān na cet tvam || 8 ||

vitarka dolām vyavadhūya satve
bŕhaspatim vartayase yatastvam |
tenaiva deva tridaśeśvarāňām
aspŕśta dolāyitamādhi rājyam || 9 ||

agnou samiddhārciśi saptatantoħ
ātasthivān mantramayam śarīram |
akhaňda sārair haviśām pradānaiħ
āpyāyanam vyoma sadām vidhatse || 10 ||

yanmūlamīdŕk pratibhāti tatvam
yā mūlamāmnāya mahādrumāňām |
tatvena jānanti viśuddha satvāħ
tvām akśarām akśara mātŕkām te || 11 ||

avyākŕtād vyākŕta vānasi tvam
nāmāni rūpāňi ca yāni pūrvam |
śamsanti teśām caramām pratiśtām
vāgīśvara tvām tvadupajña vācaħ || 12 ||

mugdhendu niśyanda vilobha nīyām
mūrtim tavānanda sudhā prasūtim |
vipaścitaścetasi bhāvayante
velā mudārāmiva dugdha sindhoħ || 13 ||

manogatam paśyati yaħ sadā tvām
manīśiňām mānasa rāja hamsam |
svayam purobhāva vivādabhājaħ
kinkurvate tasya giro yathārham || 14 ||

api kśaňārdham kalayanti ye tvām
āplāvayantam viśadair mayūkhaiħ |
vācām pravāhair anivāritaiste
mandākinīm mandayitum kśamante || 15 |

svāmin bhavaddhyāna sudhābhiśekāt
vahanti dhanyāħ pulakānubandham |
alakśite kvāpi nirūdha mūlam
angeśvivānandathum ankurantam || 16 ||svāmin pratīcā hŕdayena dhanyāħ
tvaddhyāna candrodaya vardhamānam |
amānta mānanda payodhimantaħ
payobhirakśňām parivāhayanti || 17 ||

svairānubhāvās tvadadhīna bhāvāħ
samŕddha vīryās tvadanugraheňa |
vipaścito nātha taranti māyām
vaihārikīm mohana piñchikām te || 18 ||

prān nirmitānām tapasām vipākāħ
pratyagra niśśreyasa sampado me |
samedhiśīramstava pāda padme
sankalpa cintāmaňayaħ praňāmāħ || 19 ||

vilupta mūrdhanya lipikra māňām
surendra cūdāpada lālitānām |
tvadanghrirājīva rajaħ kaňānām
bhūyān prasādo mayi nātha bhūyāt || 20 ||

parisphuran nūpura citrabhānu –
prakāśa nirdhūta tamonuśangām |
padadvayīm te paricin mahe’ntaħ
prabodha rājīva vibhāta sandhyām || 21 ||

tvat kinkarā lankaraňo citānām
tvayaiva kalpāntara pālitānām |
mañjupraňādam maňinūpuram te
mañjūśikām veda girām pratīmaħ || 22 ||

sañcintayāmi pratibhāda śāsthān
sandhukśayantam samaya pradīpān |
vijñāna kalpadruma pallavābham
vyākhyāna mudrā madhuram karam te || 23 ||

citte karomi sphuritākśamālam
savyetaram nātha karam tvadīyam |
jñānāmŕto dañcana lampatānām
līlā ghatīyantra mivāśritānām || 24 ||

prabodha sindhoraruňaiħ prakāśaiħ
pravāla sanghāta mivodvahantam |
vibhāvaye deva sapustakam te
vāmam karam dakśiňam āśritānām || 25 ||

tamāmsi bhitvā viśadairmayūkhaiħ
samprīňayantam viduśaścakorān |
niśāmaye tvām nava puňdarīke
śaradghane candramiva sphurantam || 26 ||

diśantu me deva sadā tvadīyāħ
dayā tarangānucarāħ katākśāħ |
śrotreśu pumsām amŕtam kśarantīm
sarasvatīm samśrita kāmadhenum || 27 ||

viśeśa vitpāriśa deśu nātha
vidagdha gośthī samarāngaňeśu |
jigīśato me kavitārki kendrān
jihvāgra simhāsanam abhyupeyāħ || 28 ||

tvām cintayan tvanmayatām prapannaħ
tvāmudgŕňan śabda mayena dhāmnā |
svāmin samājeśu samedhiśīya
svacchanda vādāhava baddha śūraħ || 29 ||

nānā vidhānāmagatiħ kalānām
na cāpi tīrtheśu kŕtāvatāraħ |
dhruvam tavānātha parigrahāyāħ
navam navam pātramaham dayāyāħ || 30 ||

akampanīyān yapanīti bhedaiħ
alankŕśīran hŕdayam madīyam |
śankā kalankā pagamojjvalāni
tatvāni samyañci tava prasādāt || 31 ||

vyākhyā mudrām karasarasijaiħ pustakam śanka cakre
bibhrad bhinnasphatika rucire puňdarīke niśaňňaħ |
amlānaśrīr amŕta viśadair amśubhiħ plāvayan mām
āvirbhūyā danagha mahimā mānase vāga dhīśaħ || 32 ||

vāgartha siddhihetoħ
pathata hayagrīva samstutim bhaktyā |
kavitārkika kesariňā
venkata nāthena viracitā metām || 33 ||

kavitārkika simhāya kalyāňa guňaśāline |
śrīmate venkateśāya vedānta gurave namaħ ||

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Brass-Deepa-LakshmiNamaste! From tomorrow, Kartika Masa, the month of Akash deepa starts. Since Dakshinayana is a malefic period, and lighting of a lamp and praying to Shiva/Ista Devata is supposed to protect one from going to naraka (hell) “Traahimaam narakaath ghoraath, deepajyothi namosthute”, I just felt like sharing a few thoughts … please pardon (but do correct) any errors that creep into my modest narrative. What I am offering is just like a fistful of “arghyam” to the Almighty…

om bhur bhuva svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah pracodayat

The Gayatri mantra exhorts us thus Chanting Omkara, forget the “vaasana” and “vichara” of the three worlds, and concentrate on Surya alone, the “Trailokya timiraapah”. Let the Surya, the “Jyothiswaroopa” flood our hearts with His radiance. Let the effulgence of Surya engulf us, burn away the darkness, and sharpen
our faculties. Let the intellect glow steadily,
unagitated and unbiased. Let it remain chaste…
unsoiled by the shadripu.

This ancient invocation embodies the man’s perennial quest for Light, which is synonymous with the Supreme Being. All ancient religions in the world have revered “Light” from time immemorial and designated the time of conjunction between darkness and light (Sandhya samaya) as especially sacred for worship.

While day represents “jagrithi” (wakefulness); night represents “sushupthi” (state of sleep), and the brilliant twilight represents “Swapna” (the dream-state), the junction of the conscious and the unconscious, where everything gets dramatically colored and highlighted.  The fourth dimension is the “thuryavastha”, which is indefinable and permeates all states, like ether, the “Akasa tattwa”. Just to illustrate..this is most akin to the fleeting, trance-like state of the pale pre/afterglow. It is like the vibrating silence that follows “AUM”. It is where the soul is in its highest state of  “nirvikara” … and closest to God.

This is the time of  “Nitya Deepaaradhana”, a daily Hindu ritual of lighting the lamp during dawn and dusk, which signifies man’s basic desire to stay close to Light/Dharma, and derive comfort, despite the apparent and sometimes, overwhelming darkness. Infact, Light is an inextricable part of Hindu sensibility. From birth to death and even beyond, lighting of a lamp accompanies virtually all activities.
The Purana have described the Lamp as “Suryamsa sambhavo deepah”(an aspect of Surya) and according to Rigveda it is Amritamaya (full of nectar). It is one of the 16 upacharas / services / offerings to God and is one of the 16 “mahadaanas”. The light of lamp can be resolved into three components:

Blue, White and reddish Gold, representative of Durga/Parvati, Saraswati and Lakshmi and lighting of the lamp is to ignite/launch/channel the three guiding shaktis (Iccha/Gyana/Kriya shaktis) of human destiny into action for our benefit.
The lighting of lamp is usually accompanied by rendition of the sloka,
Deepam Jyothi parabrahmam
Deepam sarva tamopaham
Deepena saadhyate sarvam
Sandhya deepam namosthute

The lighting of lamp is not just a routine religious task and is highly symbolic:
Vairagya thaila sampoorne
Bhakti varti samanvithe
Prabodha poorna pathrouthe
Jnyapthi deepam vilokayeth

Fill a vessel called “Prabodha” (teachings of Guru) with oil called “Vairagya” (detachment) and put a wick called “Bhakti” (devotion) and let the lamp of wisdom glow gently within and without, at the feet of God. Where the heart is touched by the Divine Spark, the mind is truly enlightened and both are immersed in the constant contemplation of God, inner light pours out from every pore, says Taittiriya Upanishad. And that person will himself grow into a “Viswamurti”, because Lord Krishna in Bhagavadgita emphatically says that He’s the “Tejas”(brilliance) of the Sun, the Moon, the Agni and wherever else it is found.

In Purusha sooktam, the description of the Viswamurti goes like, “chandrama manaso jaatah chaksho Suryo ajaayatha…” establishing Eyes and Heart as the twin primary seats of Light /luminaries in the human body. Now, relate this to Jyotish Sastra which is identified with the eyes of kalapurusha…and there, in the center/core (Bhrumadhya) lies the Third Eye/Aagya chakra, the seat of wisdom and intuition, ruled by Jupiter, who alone can unlock a shimmering path into the sheer, translucent Light that is Sahasrara Chakra and Mother.
Asatoma Sadgamaya
Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya
Mrityorma Amritamgamaya

Translation: Oh Lord, Lead me… from Untruth to Truth Darkness to Light Mortality to Immortality
Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih!

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Concept

The word Hindu is said to have two origins: –

Hindu (WRONG): As derived from the word Sindhu or the people living to the east of the Indus Valley Civilisation. This concept seems to fit into the rudimentary historical theory of the start of civilization with the Indus Valley cultures of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. With more and more historical evidence pointing against it, it is doubted whether it will stand the test of times to come.

Hindu (CORRECT): This word refers to the people living between the Himalayas (Himavat: the Mountain father) and the Indian Ocean (Bindu-sagar: Bindu refers to the Divine Mother). This definition is that of Maharishi Parāśara in the VISHNU PURANA.

To the westerner Hinduism is an enigma, being as it is a complex mixture of sublime Vedic philosophies, dogmatic Brahmanical rituals, Yogic mysticism, Tantrik occultism, fertility cults, monastic orders, pagan customs and the firm rooted belief in unity of Godhead (i.e. one God who manifests as innumerable divine beings).

The Rig Veda is the oldest text and the root of Hinduism. For at least 2000 years before the final form of the Veda (perhaps 1500 B.C.), a great urban civilization existed in North-West India on the banks of the Indus and its tributaries. This coincides with the worldly sojourn of the Krishna Avatar and the beginning of the Kali Yuga at 3102 B.C. The sacred motifs of this Shaivaite civilization – like the bull, the serpent and the swastika – are still part of Hindu worship. There are many seemingly contradictions within Hinduism that came as it tried to assimilate every belief it came into contact with. However, as the knowledge increases, this vanishes. Hinduism acknowledges that the Ultimate Truth manifests itself in infinite ways which is beyond the capacity of the normal human mind to fathom. Yogi practices, austerities and all forms of Mantra aim at enhancing the mental capability to use more than the mere 5% resources that it normally does. This enhances the chances for a complete and better understanding of God.

In the eyes of the westerner, “Hinduism is a socio-cultural phenomenon that evolved in the Indian sub-continent and spread to South-East Asia. It does not have a clearly defined God or one dominating philosophy or one holy book or one prophet or one church or one religious hierarchy. The secular and the sacred are not separated. Hence, Hinduism is referred to more as a way-of-life than as a religion.” This maybe true for a so called scientific standpoint, but when we realise that some of the mathematical concepts like decimal system or the fact that the earth was circular or that the concept of relativity was ingrained in the concept of the Bha-chakra where the earth is the central focus of a study of the solar system etc, were known to peoples of this subcontinent ages before their rediscovery in the west, then this concept of development of Hinduism suffers a setback.

nandiholycow
Nandi, the bull representing dharma, stands on four legs for the devout.

The historians mind perceives Hinduism as a religion and attempts to try to explain its beliefs and practices until he finally gives up as is seen in the quote given above. This historians “Growth concept in religion” gives way to a “Way of life approach of the socialist”. However they will still fail to understand the way as the definition of Hinduism is in its name itself “Satya Sanatana” or “Sanatana Dharma”. Dharma does not have any English equivalent and has been loosely interpreted as “Way of life or living” at the level of Physical consciousness and visible activities or monuments etc. In reality, Dharma is obedience and self-discipline at four levels (Chatuspada: four footed).

  1. The first is Vishwa dharma which requires strict following of the laws of Nature… the definition of Bhagavan.
  2. The second is Desha dharma which requires strict obedience of the laws of the nation in letter and spirit. Tax evaders and all sorts of criminals fall in this category. Desha can also be interpreted as social laws as ordained by one’s personal religion or social practices that are based on the books of tradition like the Veda.
  3. The third is Kutumba Dharma or duty towards the family. This is the town in large and personal family in the smaller scope. Thus keeping one’s town clean or looking after wife and children falls in this level.
  4. The fourth is Swa Dharma or duty towards one own self like looking after one’s daily diet, mental health etc. It is unfortunate that with the advance of Kali Yuga the Dharma priorities of most human beings have reversed with the self coming first, family far away in priority and nation / nature hardly finding any place. This fall in the value system is due to the erosion of Satwa (loosely interpreted as Truth force in this context).

Common Features

Having understood the basic foundation of Hinduism as ‘Sanatana Dharma’, the next step would be to try to examine the common features in the different forms of its actual practice.

Some common features of Hinduism are:

  1. Reverence of the faithful for the Sruti Literature which includes the Vedas.
  2. Belief in God (Bhagawan, Ishvar) Who is the cause of this manifested Universe as well as the Universe itself, not distinct from it (i.e. He is the Creator as well as the Created) and Who incarnates as innumerable divine beings called Avatars.
  3. Worship of the Earth Mother (Devi) in Her various forms (i.e. every physical manifestation of Creation must have a mother and refers to a form of the Divine Mother. Thus, She has innumerable forms (as there are innumerable creatures and forms of creation).
  4. All negative things in life are accepted as the products of Tamas (ignorance) or Rajas (passion & desire). Thus, there is no Devil or Satan and since this entire Universe is a part of Bhagavan, love of everything and all creation is the first step to God realisation. There is no place for hatred for anybody or anything. Even in battle, this level of non-attachment is to prevail without any place for hatred.
  5. This love of Bhagavan is expressed through rituals (Yagna, Poojas, Vrata, Samskara), including idol, plant, animal, ancestor and Nature worship
  6. Sansara & Rebirth: Belief in reincarnation of the soul and acceptance of present situation as a consequence of actions performed in the past life (karma) is the foundation stone of Hinduism. This leads to the study of Jyotish and other occult sciences/subjects in the search for emancipation (Moksha) from this cycle of re-birth. The path is enlightened by those who have tread earlier on it leading to the line of Guru’s & Sisya (Guru-Sisya Parampara).
  7. Balancing righteous conduct (dharma) with material aspirations (artha), sensual pleasures (kama) and spiritual pursuits (moksha). These form the four Ayana or Goals of life.
  8. Acceptance that there are many means (marga) to reach God and respect for each of these paths. Like blind people trying to describe the elephant by touching different parts of it, so also these paths to Godhead are like different organs of God. Just like the man who can see evry organ and can easily describe the elephant, so also the enlightened one sees (knows) all the paths and can understand Godhead.
  9. Caste system (varna, jati) based on Karma Yoga. [Since the Theory of Sansara or transmigration of the soul is also based on Karma, then the birth itself is a product of our own Karma and hence the Caste system was extended to the birth of the individual].

Perceiving the environment, the body and the mind as illusion (maya) and only the soul (atma) as the True Self that can be identified with the Supreme Divine Being (brahman). In Jyotisha, the Lagna and Saptama are the satya Peetha [The truth personified] whereas the other houses reflect Maya. This theory is also extended to (a) the Lagna and its Karaka (significator) Sun which is also the Atma-Karaka or the soul significator on the one hand and the Arudha Lagna and its significator Moon which is also the Mana-Karaka or Mind significator that perceives this unreal world as real. This is the great illusion.

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Karen Aren is a Registered Yoga Teacher trained in a style of yoga called Prana Yoga which was taught to her by Dr. Jeff Migdow MD in the lineage of Swami Kripalvananda.  In Prana Yoga the student is taught to hold postures for a longer duration with the simultaneous use of pranayama and mantra as a method of accessing the prana of the seven chakras.    Karen teaches Prana Yoga on Long Island, New York and is available for group and private lessons. She can be reached at +1-516-484-8294 or karen108@optonline.net

In recent years, yoga has gained much popularity and become a part of mainstream culture in the United States with an estimated 18 million Americans practicing yoga on a weekly basis.  Largely, yoga instruction has been in the practice of Hatha yoga which teaches asana (postures) and pranayama (breath techniques).  While many have come to experience increased vitality and peace of mind through yoga, many are left unaware of yoga’s spiritual purpose.  If we look at some of the ancient texts on yoga we find that almost the opposite situation, that the spiritual aspects were made very clear and the practice of asanas had little attention.

The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” and means the act of joining, attaching or harnessing.   The joining refers to the union of the individual soul (jeevatma) with the Universal Soul (Paramatma) by which one can attain liberation from the cycle of rebirth.   Sri Krishna tells this to Arjuna in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.  “The yogi who has completely calmed the mind and controlled the passions and freed from all impurities, and who is one with Spirit—- verily, he has attained supreme blessedness.  The yogi, free from all impurities, ceaselessly engaging the Self thus in the activity of yoga, readily attains the blessedness of continuous mergence in Spirit” [i]  The Bhagavad Gita affirms yoga’s spiritual goal of union with the Divine by controlling the mind and the senses with the practice of yoga of but only mentions the word asana to refer how one should sit for meditation[ii].

Patanjali compiled the philosophy of Raja Yoga from the Upanishads in his classic 2nd century text called the Yoga Sutras which consists of 196 terse aphorisms.   Raja Yoga consists of eight sequential steps to train the mind of the yogi to attain union with the Divine through meditation (samadhi).  These eights steps are yama[iii], niyama[iv], asana, pranayama[v], pratyahara, dharuna, dhyana, and samadhi.  Even though Patanjali includes asana in his path to samadhi, like the Bhagavad Gita, he only writes of seated postures.[vi] He goes on to writes that once “mastering posture, one may practice control of prana (pranayama) through stopping the motions of inhalation and exhalation”[vii] indicating that the practice of posture is a preliminary step before advancing on to the more advanced steps of concentration and meditation.  Swatmarama also makes this point in his 14th century text on Hatha Yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. He gives detailed practical instruction in various asana, pranayama techniques and bodily cleansing techniques and writes that “ all method of Hatha  are meant for gaining success in Raja Yoga for the man who is well established in Raja Yoga overcomes death.” [viii]

Yoga in the United States has come a long way since Vivekanda first stepped foot here in 1893.  Many styles of yoga maintain it’s intended original spiritual purpose, like Sivananda Yoga founded by a disciple of Swmi Sivananda, Integral Yoga founded by Swami Satchitananda or  Kripalu Yoga founded by a disciple of Swami Kripalvananda, just to name a few. Many other yoga methods largely emphasis a vigorous physical workout so it’s good to be informed about a particular style and see if it meets your goals before beginning a yoga practice.
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Footnotes:
[i] Bhagavad Gita 6:27,28
[ii] Bhagavad Gita 6:11-12
[iii] Yama are the 5 restaints of ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (celibacy) and aparigraha (non-coveting).
[iv] Niyama are the 5  observances of saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (penances), swadhyaya (self-study) and ishwara pranidhana (dedication to the Lord)
[v]  pranayama: control of prana (subtle energy) through breathing techniques, pratyahara :sense withdrawal, dharana: concentration,  dhyana: meditation, samadhi: experience of oneness with the Divine
[vi]  Yoga Sutra 2:46
[vii] Yoga Sutras 2:49
[viii] Hatha Yoga Pradipika 4:102

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