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The Vedic culture is known as Sanatan or the eternal culture. Sat Sanatan Dharma is known as Aparusheya, which means that it is not based on a particular individual, but on spiritual experience of tens of thousands of spiritually enlightened individuals, both men and women, called Rishis that were transmitting the message of spirituality. In transmitting this wisdom Rishis respected two important factors: kal – time and des – space, which means that this culture was and is conforming itself to the specific time and space circumstances. The Rishis chose to remain anonymous, hence they named themselves according to their role, as for example Vyasa – the compiler, the translator, the one who collected knowledge. This process made it possible for their realisations to become connected with the earlier teachings in a simple manner, conforming to the particular time and space requirements and transmitted through an unbroken chain of a Master-Disciple relationship – Guru Parampara.

Sat Sanatan Dharma is a relationship between an individual and the universe; moreover, Dharma implies eternal cosmic wisdom, law and action.

Sat – true, Sanatan – eternal and universal, Dharma – what contains and maintains the universe. Sat Sanathan Dharma is therefore what keeps the society and the civilization together by means of proper living. In a wider sense it means getting to know the eternal laws of the universe which control everything. The search after these laws and the implementation of them for the benefit of all is the way of practicing Sat Sanatan Dharma

 

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Sat Sanatan Dharma

The Vedic culture is known as Sanatan or the eternal culture. Sat Sanatan Dharma is not a religion in the sense of a specific religious doctrine, as most of today's religions are. The latter have one person, a founder, whose spiritual experiences serve as a foundation for that particular belief. Sat Sanatan Dharma is based on spiritual experiences of tens of thousands of spiritually enlightened individuals, both men and women, called Rishis (from the word dris – to see) that aretransmitting the message of spirituality. The important factors in this regard are kal – time, and des – space, which means that this culture was and is conforming itself to the specific time and space circumstances. Its founders and transmitters – the Rishis – chose to remain anonymous, hence they named themselves according to their role, as for example Vyasa – the compiler, the translator, the one who collected knowledge.

This process made it possible for their realisations to become connected with the earlier teachings in a simple, immediate and nonjudgmental manner, conforming to the particular time and space requirements and transmitted through an unbroken chain of a Master-Disciple relationship – Guru parampara.

Sanatan has far too many founders to be able to knowtheir number. The teachings of Sanatan Dharma are known as apauruseja, which means they are not based on an authority, but on principles. This is an important fact to remember, as Sat Sanatan Dharma is not a discovery or an invention of any individual or a group of individuals but, the same way scientists do not find the laws of nature but come to know them, these founders, the Rishis, did not find the spiritual laws but came to know them, i.e. they were revealed to them through meditation. 

Sat Sanatan Dharma is a relationship between an individual and the universe; moreover, Dharma implies eternal cosmic wisdom, law and action. Sat – true, Sanatan – eternal and universal,  Dharma – what contains and maintains the universe. Sat Sanathan Dharma is therefore what keeps the society and the civilization together by means of proper living. In a wider sense it means getting to know the eternal laws of theuniverse which control everything. The search after these laws and the implementation of them for the benefit of all is the way of practicing Sat Sanatan Dharma.

All religions known so far are created, last and after some time vanish in order to be replaced by some other religion which is more in line with the mentality, culture and social system of that particular time. Sanatan is eternal because it contains eternal values on which the human evolution is based. It is divided in two branches:

  • Gyana kanda – includes gyana – knowledge and vigyana – science, both deriving from experience-based knowledge gained in the course of life. Vigyana relates to the theoretical and philosophical records that transfer universal spiritual knowledge without being limited to a particular divine concept or figure.  It is the knowledge about spiritual principles and cosmic laws as well as about tattvas – the elements. Gyan Kanda includes Yogis and Sanyasis, the  Swamis
  • Karma Kanda – the branch regarding actions or rituals. It covers subjects on karmas – acts, and upasanams – sacrifices.  Karma Kanda concerns practices and includes hymns, prayers and mantras, i.e. Samhitas and Brahmans, customs and ceremonies. This is where Pandits – the priests – belong.

Sat Sanatan Dharma advocates that a man must not neglect hiswork, bodily needs or his family. In this regard there is purusharth – human purpose, four principles that each human being must accomplish in his/her life in order to become a Human, as follows:

  • Artha – material wealth, which means that a man should have enough for himself and his family. If you have a roof over your head and food and clothes, you will not continuously fear what the future brings, and a stable and prosperous society is only possible to achieve through the wealth of each individual.  It is not a sin to possess and to be rich. In one bhajan it is said: "Lord, here's your mala, I cannot meditate while hungry."
  • Kama – enjoyment in happiness, safety, creativity, usefulness and inspiration. Sat Sanatan Dharma does not tell us that the emotional needs for happiness and pleasure are bad, only that we always should try to feel content because when our spiritual journey begins "crying can only pull us back".
  • Dharma – proper life. Accomplishment of virtues, duties and responsibilities, doing an honest job, responsibility towards family and society –that is moral dharma. A man should not neglect his duties and promises. Spiritual dharma means to accomplish Atam Gyana, self-realisation in this life.
  • Moksha – liberation. Freedom from continuous birth and death, self-realization. Moksha is attained by respecting dharma, kama i artha, and the goal of every human being is to come to know their own self and finally become free from the attachment towards wordly pleasures and suffering.  This is the supreme goal of life, to reunite with our source – Paramatma – the Apsolute, God.

In Sanatan or eternal culture life is divided into four levels. This is not done by chance because there is a main principle that says that our individual phenomenon is but a reflection of the universe. Since on the cosmic level time is divided into four Jugas, four seasons, our life is also divided into four periods – Ashrams. Bramacharya Ashram is till the age of 25 and is dedicated to studying and learning. Grihastha Ashram, from the age 25 to 50 is dedicated to creating a family and working. Vanaprastha Ashram, from the age 50 to 75 is the time when we slowly withdraw ourselves from the active role in life and slowly leave our business to our children. We teach our grandchildren and we can say we have an advisory role. Sannyas Ashram, from the age 75 till the end of life is the period of withdrawal from activities and of the total dedication to our goal, Atam Gyana.

Mahamandaleshwar Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda a part of the lecture about Sanatan Dharma, Strilky Ashram, Czech Republic, 2007

In the holy scriptures brought to us by the Rishis, in the Upanishads and Vedas, and even in Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, no particular name of religion is mentioned, because there was only one religion, and that is Sanatan Dharma. Sanatan Dharma means the universal principle which is followed since the mere creation of the universe.

Hinduism believes in one God only, and that God has no name; He is Ishvara, the universal principle, the cosmic law, and that cosmic law is Sanathan Dharma. Those who understand it, respect it, and accept it are called the Dharma followers. If you are Dharam Karan, it means you accept, and follow the Dharma. Vedas and Upanishads teach us about one thing only – the Universal and only one God. At the same time, there are millions of Gods and beliefs in Hinduism. Both coexist. If you wonder how that is possible, Holi Guruji will give you a simple answer: "One in All and All in One".  All types of liquids on Earth have one origin, and that is water. You can see different forms and shapes, but in reality they are all one, their substance is the same. Likewise there is only one quality – God, Ishvara – and different forms originating from it. Brahma Satya Jagat Mithya, where Brahma Satya means – the Ultimate Truth is Brahman, and Jagat Mithya – all of this world of change is unreal. For us, Sanatan Dharma means Dharma given to us for this life. The Sanatan values are love, happiness, contentment, harmony and peace – these are the universal principles and nobody has acopyright on them. It is equally given to all creatures – plants, animals and humans alike.

Sannyasa

The word Sannyasa in Sanskrit means renunciation.  A Sannyasi – a Swami, is one who received Sannyas Diksha and became part of the Holy Order of Sannyasis. Sannyasis carry the title of Swami, or, in the case of women, Swamini or Sadhvi. Swami literally means husband, master, owner. In this case, it means one who has mastered himself.

Renunciation

The term renunciation needs to be understood properly. In Sanskrit the word is tyaga, and is translated as abandonment, release, waiver, renunciation, separation, detachment. Through this process one does not feel pain, longing, or lacking of anything. This kind of renunciation brings endless happiness, as when a ripe fruit drops naturally from the tree, and nobody needs to rip it off forcibly.

Tyagi is a person renouncing out of a natural process of growth of consciousness; one who does not see anything appealing any more in the embrace of Maya (unreality, illusion). This means that for him there is no difference between the good times and the enjoyment or suffering and pain, in the sense that for him all this is one an the same Maya, the illusion. But there is more to it. Being a Tyagi also means renouncing everything, not just the current way of life, clothes and environment – but to renounce completely one's small ‘I’ as well, and to dissolve into the Divine. 

Vairagya is derived from two words: vai – which means to dry, to dry up, and raga, which means colour, passion, feelings, interests, attachment. A person is a Vairagyi when all his wordly passion and attachment dries up, melts down.

Sannyasa and Religion

The closest and most frequently mentioned explanation of a sannyasi is that sannyasi is a Hindu monk, not a priest (pandit). Yet, this explanation is too simplistic and does not correspond to the whole truth, because in reality sannyasi does not belong to any religion, and at the same time he belongs to all of them. It is said that sannyasa begins where formal religion with all its limitations ends. For a sannyasi, all churches, temples, synagogues and mosques, traditions and rituals are equally close to him, and equally far. He is in search of a direct realization of the truth, attainable by following the instructions of his own Guru.

The Tradition of Sannyasa

The tradition of Sat Sanathan Dharma speaks about two types of life paths. The path of a family man – who works on his family Dharma by leading a family life filled with Sat Sanathan Dharma principles and spirituality. He is a pillar of the society he lives in. Likewise, sannyasa also means life in line with the Dharma, but in this case with the Sannyas Dharma. Sannyas Dharma is life led according to the principle of renunciation. Complete renunciation of the ways of life of a family man, and the duties and responsibilities of a family life, including the position in society, ambitions, wealth and family relations. Instead, a sannyasi dedicates all of his time to meditation, his yoga sadhana, life in the ashram, helping others, the search for God and the transmission of the light of spirituality to people leading a family life.

The tradition of sannyasa can be found in all of the world's traditions and societies. There is no culture that does not have sannyasis – people who have left the worldliness and devoted themselves entirely to a higher spiritual life, and helping others in their spiritual progress. Over time and in different places they got different names – saints, sages, mystics, ascetics, monks, hermits, philosophers...

The Lord Shiva himself is considered as the archetype of a sannyasi. He is known as Tyageshwar – the Lord of Sannyasis and Yogis – of those who renounce.

Adi Shankaracharya

During his life, Adi Shankaracharya introduced reforms to the sannyasa and formed a system that is still observed in India today. He established ten orders (Desnami – ten names) of sannyasa. Although there are differences regarding rules of sannyasa from one order to the other, the essence and the meaning remained the same.

Dasanami Sampradaya, or Dasanami, literally means – a tradition of ten names. It is a monk tradition – Ekadand, or the tradition of those who have renounced worldly things and now wander the earth, wearing nothing but one staff – the stick of knowledge. This is the tradition of Advaita Vedanta, founded by Adi Shankaracharya. Everyone, regardless of gender, class, caste, age, can receive sannyasa in the ekadand order of the dashanami tradition.

The tradition of Ekadand was established in ancient times, but due to the deterioration caused by Buddhism, which is only a branch of Ekadand, Adi Shankaracharya established four mathas – pillars in the 8th century AD, that are the solid foundation upon which Sat Sanatan Dharma continued to exist to the present day.

One who is initiated in the sannyasa of the Ekadand tradition receives one of the ten names associated with the sampradaya – the tradition of their school.

  • Saraswati
  • Tirtha
  • Aranya
  • Bharati
  • Ashrama
  • Ghiri
  • Parvat
  • Sagar
  • Vana
  • Puri

Saraswati, Puri and Bharati are associated with Sringeri Sarada Peetha, an important Advaita Math located in Sringeri. It is claimed that this is the first of the four mathas founded by Adi Sankaracharya.

Tirtha and Ashrama are associated with Dwaraka Peetha or Dwaraka matha, located in the coastal city Dwaraka in Gujarat. It is a place of pilgrimage dedicated to Lord Krishna. It is also known as the Western Math and Kalika Math.

Ghiri, Parvat and Sagar are associated with Jyotir math – in the state of Uttaranchal.
Vana and Aranya are associated with Govardhan Math – the Eastern Math located in the city Puri in Orisa.

Sannyas Diksha

Almost all spiritual philosophies claim that first you have to die in order to be born again. The same applies to Sannyas Miksa – the initiation into sannyasa – where a devotee, after completing all of his life samskaras, symbolically receives a new life. In Hinduism there are 16 samskaras that every Hindu should observe, the last one being the funeral ceremony.

As usually happens when entering into a new life, during the ceremony of Sannyas Diksha a sannyasi gets a new name and the orange robes worn by all sannyasis. Only the initiated sannyasi can initiate someone into sannyasa, and the ritual, like all the 16 samskaras, is usually led by Pandits.

In the ritual fire, a sannyasi burns all his previous karmas and worldly attachments, becomes free from worldly life, and makes a commitment to live by the principles of Sannyas Dharma. A spiritual teacher, Guru, knows when it's time for a disciple to become a sannyasi, just like a farmer who knows when is the right time to pluck the fruit from the tree. Only when vairagya has become completely mature in a devotee, and he is no longer attracted by worldliness, he is ready for the Sannyas Diksha.

The orange robes that sannyasis wear are the symbol of fire and purification. At the same time, the same fire will burn the sannyasi himself, if he gets off track and does not respect Sannyas Dharma. So the path of sannyasa is the highest and the most beautiful one, but at the same time both very demanding and challenging. 

During Sannyas Diksha, the future sannyasi takes vows, among which are the vow to renounce the ego, worldly treasures, and the vow of simplicity. The second is the vow of obedience, where a devotee gives promise to follow the tradition of Sannyas Dharma and Guruvakya – the Word of the Guru, and accepts obedience to his Parampara – the spiritual lineage to which he belongs. The third is the vow of chastity, purity of mind, feelings, actions and words. This part relates to ahimsa – non-hurting, the basic principle of Hinduism.

By receiving a new life from their respective Gurus, swamis and sannyasis do not belong to anybody anymore, because all connections to the worldly life have ceased to exist. Yet, by renouncing the specific connections, he starts to belong to everyone, i.e. to the whole world. Then their task is to spread the Divine word and serve humanity.

Altar

The altar is a place where God "lives". The altar and the objects on it are the place where we can physically express our worship, prayers and devotion to the Almighty, the universal truth. It is also the central place of every temple, ashram, and disciple’s home. Our understanding of God will determine what images and objects the altar will have.

The altar is one of the places where puja is performed. Puja is the act by which we worship the Lord through the chanting of mantras, the singing of prayers and the performance of certain rituals. For a bhakta, puja is a direct relationship with God and Guru. There are many forms and types of puja, but they all have one thing in common – the act of worshipping the Almighty in one of His aspects. One of the most common pujas is the Guru Puja, which is not determined by strict cermonial rules.

 On a Hindu altar, the following items may be found:

It is important to note that there are no strict rules in this regard, and every altar does not necessarily contain all of the following.

Images and pictures – On the altar there are usually images of saints and deities. The devotees, bhaktas, have on their altars a picture of their Guru, and of their lineage of enlightened teachers – Guru parampara, to which they belong.

Trident – a weapon and one of the symbols of Lord Shiva. The three prongs symbolize the three Divine Shaktis (powers). Iccha shakti – will power, Kriya Shakti – the power of action and Gyan Shakti – the power of wisdom. They also represent the three main nadisida, pingala and sushumna.

Oil lamp – The oil lamp is the only thing required on every altar. The light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness represents ignorance. The light dispels darkness as knowledge dispels ignorance, without any effort, only by its mere presence. The Lord is the principle of knowledge, Chaitanya, consciousness, intelligence, which is the source of all knowledge. The hand of the one who lights an oil lamp is respected as the Lord himself. The knowledge is a permanent inner wealth through which everything is achieved. Therefore, we light the oil lamp as a symbol of the greatest respect towards knowledge, the largest of all wealth. The oil lamp, the pot, is considered a feminine principle, whereas the flame is a male principle. A lighted oil lamp is a union of these two principles, the symbol of enlightenment. A Guru transmits the light from the flame of self-realisation to his devotees, who are the unlit lamps.

Agarbathi (incense sticks) – Scents are "food" for Gods and Raksasas (demons) alike. Pleasant aromas call for good energy, while the smell of blood and alcohol evoke the presence of rakshasas. Scents purify and change the energy of the environment.

The bell (Ghanta)Ghanta is used in pujas for invoking Gods. The bell’s ringing produces a special sound that represents respect and salutation. It is the sound of Om – the universal name of God. Together with the scents, this favourable sound purifies the environment and our interior. The sound of the bell eliminates any adverse noise or noise that irritates and that could interfere with puja and divine atmosphere and inner peace. The prayer or any type of service is incomplete without the sound of the bell.

Camphor (karpuras) – Karpuras has a unique place in Hindu rituals and traditional puja. It is clean, white, and when burning, it gives a certain colour to the flame. It burns completely without leaving any residue. The lighting of camphor in front of God symbolises the burning of illusions, of the ego; with the fire of true knowledge. Like this we merge with God, leaving no "residue".

RiceAkshat means unbroken rice grain without the husk. This is offered for one's welfare. It also symbolises strength and the endurance of the brain, and is a symbol of peace. The grain of rice without the husk is a seed that cannot germinate, and symbolically it represents the last birth, the exit from the cycle of rebirth and death through enlightenment. By offering such rice grains in puja we confirm our aspirations towards living a lifestyle that enables us to achieve enlightenment.

Shell – In Vedas it is written: Nada rupa Parabrahma – the form of the Supreme is sound. With its sound, sankha (the shell) symbolises the purity and the beginning. It purifies the environment from all that is bad, from negative energy and disease. The sound and the vibration of the shell represent the sound of Om. The creation of sound by blowing into a shell symbolizes blessing for an auspicious start and end. When we press the shell against our ear, we will hear the sound of Om without any of our effort and action. Likewise, the sound of Om made the creation emerge from the total motionlessness of the sunyakasha (the dormant potential energy, emptiness, latent possibility). The creation started in the way that the divine consciousness manifested itself through the first sound, the sound of Om. In the sound of Om the divine shakti is united in its three elements – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Prasad Prasad is also one of the things offered on the altar. It is our offering to the Lord. Usually it is of sweet taste, it can be fruit, nuts, crystallized sugar or different desserts. After being offered to God through prayer and mantras, the food becomes prasad. Likewise, every meal becomes prasad if we prepare it with love, offer it first to God on the altar with prayer, and then share it with others. Such food is nectar and medicine for everyone.

On the altar one can also find Shiva Lingam (representing Shiva, pure consciousness, Purusha), statues or images of Ganesh, Lakshmi, Saraswati.... Flowers are also an essential part of the altar, and besides offering good scent, the flower malas and flower petals decorate pictures of saints and symbolise our love and devotion.

Symbols

Om

OM is the original sound from which everything was created, the essence of the whole Universe, the Absolute. It is comprised of three sounds: A-U-M, representing the past, the present and the future, and the three divine principles – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

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The six major systems of Hindu philosophy

NYAYA-SHASTRA

Nyaya-Sastra was founded by Gautama Rishi. He wrote 521 Sutras. These Sutras are divided into 5 parts with 10 chapters and 80 sub-chapters. Many authors wrote commentaries on his teachings, interperated his ideas and added new ones. Nyaya literally means Logic. It is applied as a logical method itself, not only to describe a system structured according to the rules of logic.

The teaching of Nyaya states that the suffering of human existence is caused by the cycle of death and rebirth. Re-birth occurs as a result of actions or deeds performed in previous lives. The cause for action lies in having both the desire for pleasant experiences and in the wish to avoid unpleasant ones. Wishes and aversions originate out of ignorance of the true nature of the human Soul, and its relationship to the body, as well as the other objects of creation.

True knowledge about the existence of the Soul as being non-different from the rest of creation dispels ignorance. The elimination of ignorance changes desire and aversion into happiness (Ananda) and grants freedom from Karma. In this way, knowledge leads to the end of rebirth and suffering of human existence.

Knowledge can be acquired through true sources of perception:

a) OBSERVATION
b) COMPARISON
c) DEDUCTION
d) TEACHINGS FROM THE MASTER

Detailed explanation of the rules of inductive and deductive logic follow, along with the cause and results. TWELVE OBJECTS OF PERCEPTION ARE:

  1. The Soul, different from human mind and body and all other created objects.
  2. The intellect or Buddhi, an attribute of the Soul not of the mind.
  3. The five sense organs of perception: seeing, hearing, feeling smelling and tasting.
  4. The five objects of the senses: ether, air, fire, water and earth.
  5. The five skills of contact of each sense organ with objects of the senses:
    • hearing Ether with the ears
    • touch of Air on the skin
    • seeing Fire with the eyes
    • tasting Water with the tongue
    • smelling the Earth with the nose
  6. The human body consists of five objects of the senses: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether.
  7. Karma or deeds.
  8. Positive or negative results of actions.
  9. Wish and rejection (Raga and Dvesa).
  10. Reincarnation
  11. Religion
  12. Realisation

This system of Indian philosophy acknowledges the existance of God as Creator of the Universe. The Universe must have a creator like any other object. The principle theme is Realisation of the true nature of the human Soul (Atma). God or Paramatma is different from the body and other created things and is considered omnipresent and all pervading. This principle describes a detailed atom theory of Matter.

VAISHESHIKA - SHASTRA

Kanada Rishi

Founded by Kanada Rishi. He wrote 100 Sutras divided into 10 parts with 20 chapters. Many comments and interpretations followed. His original ideas were broadened with the addition of more Sutras. The name Vaisheshika has its origin in the word Visesh = difference. It means the different parts into which the human Soul and objects can be divided.

The aim of this philosophy is like that of the Nyaya Shastra. Salvation from suffering comes through Liberation of rebirth, wishes and ignorance.

This school also acknowledges the existence of God or of the supreme Soul, which permeates the whole Universe. The focus on the teachings of this system is on Realisation of the true nature of the Soul as different from all creation.

Kanada does not deal as much with logical explanations as Gautama, he tries to interpret things more from the scientific point of view. He says that time, space and Soul are external. Through concentration of the mind on the Soul, it is possible to attain liberation, all kinds of supernatural powers and knowledge of Reality, as well as knowledge of worldly matters and events.

SANKHYA - SASTRA

Kapila Acharya

Its founder is Kapila Acharya, but his original works were lost. The word “Sankhya” means a number (cipher). This philosophy treats 25 elements. According to this system, Knowledge of the 25 elements of the Universe is essential in order to overcome the suffering of our existence and the difference between two these elements: PURUSHA (or Soul), and PRAKRITI (or nature). The Sankhya way of thought is:

When we are capable of analysing the elements of which the whole Universe consists, we come to the conslusion that our true Self is fundamentally different from the rest of the world, inclusive of body and mind. When we observe the natural laws of nature in the whole Universe we automatically become indifferent to physical and mental suffering, which are the cause of problems in human existence. According to Sankhya there are two external realities:

  1. Soul, or PURUSHA, the conscious external all pervading observer of the Universe,
  2. Nature, or PRAKRITI, the cause of creation.

There are three GUNAS (qualities) existent in the whole of nature:

  1. SATTVA representing purity, nature, harmony, rhythm and all that is good,
  2. RAJAS symbolising wishes, greediness, egoism and egocentrism,
  3. TAMAS meaning ignorance, stupidity, darkness and laziness.

All is attributed to these three forces of nature. They are in a state of balance prior to creation. First, the five elements, and then all sentient and insentient beings develop from these forces, through the union of PURUSHA (Soul) with three GUNAS (qualities). PRAKRITI - nature, in its unmanifest state, is in perfect balance with these three Gunas. Creation means the transformation of nature, PRAKRITI, through the process of evolution from the unmanifest into the manifest state. Development occurs step by step, from the subtle to the more gross matter. The dissolution of the Universe occurs in the opposite direction - coarse matter becomes more and more fine. The first to originate was the most subtle and finest of all matter. This fact explains the superiority of the SATTVA GUNA. The first created objects are called MAHAT which is the transition between unmanifest nature and the manifested world. It is called BUDDHI, or the „reason‟ behind creation. The original reason is not indivdual, rather Universal. Creation developed from MAHAT - the Universal reason behind AHAMKARA - the ego or divided individual being. PRAKRITI was transformed into MAHAT and MAHAT into AHAMKARA. Then came the mind and the five elements. They manifested according to the sequence of manifestation from the finest element (Ether) to the coarsest, (Earth). PRAKRITI is non-manifest. MAHAT is half manifested, the five elements and the creation are manifested. AHAMKARA, mind and senses, are manifested but not physically material like all the other objects of the Universe.

According to this philosophical system PRAKRITI, nature, is the cause of creation and PURUSHA, the Soul, is only the observer of this process. Purusha participates in creation only via the connection with nature (PRAKRITI), which contains all living beings and matter.

The twenty-five elements of the SANKHYA philosophy are:

  • PURUSHA – Soul, all-pervading
  • PRAKRITI – Nature
  • MAHAT – Universal intelligence
  • AHAMKARA – Ego, individual existence, self-consciousness
  • INDRIYAS – Senses of perception and of action. The 11 INDRIYAS are:
    • MANAS – Central sense organ or the Mind. MANAS directs INDRIYAS – the organs of sense through the sense subconscious.
    • The five senses of perception (Jnana Indriyas):
      1. eyes – Caksu – seeing
      2. ears – Srotra – hearing
      3. skin – Tvak – feeling
      4. nose – Ghrana – smelling
      5. tongue – Jihva – tasting
    • Five senses of action (Karma Indriyas):
      1. mouth – Vani – speech
      2. hands – Pani – action
      3. feet – Pad – locomotion
      4. reproductive organs – Upastha – procreation
      5. Excretion organs – Guda – elimination
  • The five MAHA-BHUTAS (perceivable elements) have the quality of Tamas:
    • Akasha – Ether
    • Vaju – Air
    • Tejas – Fire
    • Apas – Water
    • Prithvi – Earth
      The five Bhutas combined with the five Jnana-Indriyas result in 25 apparent forms of distinctly separate forms in the Universe.
  • The five TANMANTRAS (subtle elements) are the types of perception of objects and matter through the organs of sense. They have the quality of Sattva:
    • Sabda – Sound of ether through ears
    • Sparsa – Touch of air on the skin
    • Rupa – Sight of fire through the eyes
    • Rasa – Taste of water through the tongue
    • Gandha – Smell of earth through the nose

PURUSHA, PRAKRITI, MAHAT, AHAMKARA, 11 INDRIYAS, 5 BHUTAS and 5 TANMANTRAS form 25 elements of this philosophical system. PURUSHA is lively, conscious, eternal, endless, unchangeable, the observer and enjoyer of creation. Without being its creator PURUSHA stands above the three GUNAS: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. PRAKRITI is eternal and limitless, it contains matter and living entities as well, it creates the Universe via its association with PURUSHA.

The human body consists of 2 sheaths (covers):

  1. The subtle body, consisting of MAHAT, AHAMKARA, 11 INDRIYAS and 5 TANMATRAS.
  2. The gross body, consisting of 5 BHUTAS – earth, water, fire, air and ether.

The subtle body does not die, and like the Soul, it too goes together with the ATMA to another body. Only the material (gross) body dies, ie. it dissolves again into the 5 elements which were its origin.

A very important aspect in the system of SANKHYA philosophy, are the three GUNAS. A perfect balance between the GUNAS exists prior to creation in PRAKRITI. After creation these qualities or forces express themselves in various combinations in man. Numerous characteristics arise according to the connection of the three qualities. If SATTVA predominates, we speak about a good character. If TAMAS predominates, the result is a bad character. The quality of the consciousness of each individual being depends on how the qualities of the three Gunas has combined.

YOGA-SHASTRA of PATANJALI

This system was founded by Rishi PATANJALI. He wrote 195 Sutras, divided into 4 parts. Like the Sankhya school of thought, he wrote about the 25 elements, plus an additional one – God. PATANJALI recognised the necessity to know these 25 elements, but went even further. According to his teaching, the detachment of the Soul from nature (which is necessary in order to allow freedom from suffering), is possible. It is possible to reach this goal through the practise of Yoga techniques such as concentration and meditation, as described in detail in his Sutras. PATANJALI analyses and explores various states of the mind according to which guna is most predominant:

  • good or SATTVIC
  • mixed or RAJASIC
  • bad or TAMASIC

These three gunas exist in every individual being. He describes techniques to achieve one pointed concentration and peace of mind. He speaks about obstructions on the path. He writes about the gradual progress of spiritual development and of his efforts on the path of Self-Realisation. PATANJALI defines YOGA as a technique to control the activity of the mind. He teaches that it is impossible to quieten the mind until the mind and its activities are thoroughly brought under control. This state is necessary for salvation. To reach this control of mind there are many obstacles like illness, pride, loss of enthusiasm, inability to concentrate, ingnorance, greediness, depression etc. The followers of his teaching should practise concentration and meditation daily, in divine virtue, to reach the desired aim. Patanjali names two very effective “weapons” to overcome obstacles on the path: ABHYAS or continual practise of concentration without paying attention to difficulties, and VAIRAGYA, the unceasing practise of equanimity towards the fruits of actions and unceasing endeavour despite repeated misfortune. PATANJALI describes and instructs exactly how to reach control of the mind by regulation and final cessation of breath. He provides rules and regulations on how to live one's life, guidelines on the correct meditation position, on techniques of breath control, and on various objects of concentration eg. God, the Anahat Chakra, Ajna Chakra or the Sahasrar Chakra.

He describes the experiences and effects of the concentration and meditation exercises. PATANJALI speaks about numerous supernatural powers attained through the practise of concentration and meditation, such as the knowledge of the past, present and future, reading of thoughts, control of hunger and thirst, realisation of one's true Self etc. Till finally, liberation of the Atma occurs. PANTANJALI warns of paying too much attention to these supernatural or psychic powers. Egoistic application of these powers hinders liberation (which is the only aim) of a true BHAKTA (devotee).

PATANJALI describes the state of consciosness reached through concentration and meditation as follows:

  • a quiet mind – through concentration on a certain object, or
  • on the highest level, the mind partially stops its activities and is completely under control.

MIMANSA-SHASTRA

Rishi JAIMINI wrote over 1,000 Sutras divided into 12 chapters. According to his philosophy, the only possibility to overcome suffering is to correctly practise the ceremonies as described in the VEDAS. For him the VEDAS represent an unchangeable truth and authority. The practise of VEDIC ceremonies without desire for result leads to liberation from rebirth. Therefore this philosophical system interprets the rules of ceremonies and explains their exact practise. As in the Nyaya Shastra, it explains the sources of true knowledge, ie. observation, hearing from others, conclusion of analogies, and the teachings of Sages. As in Vaisheshika Shastra, there are texts about the various types and qualities of matter and objects – their functions, similarities and differences. His work speaks, like previous ones, about body, mind, Soul, elements and the senses. A special value is attributed to sound. The unerring reality of sound, represented by the words of the Vedas, is the basis of his philosophical system. This school acknowledges laws of KARMA and rebirth however, God is not mentioned here like in Sankhya. Liberation is anticipated as a result of faithful performance of the ceremonies from the VEDAS. These ceremonies should be performed with perfect awareness of duty and without desire for the fruits of them. Here Liberation means a perfect, conscious happiness through Realisation of the true Self.

VEDANTA-SHASTRA

Veda = the Vedas; Anta = end.

Vedanta has two meanings:

  1. Knowledge transcending the Vedas (stretching beyond the Vedas)
  2. The essence of the Vedas.

Vedanta means the end, completion or perfection of knowledge.

The philosophical school was grounded by VED-VYAS. He wrote 555 Sutras diveded into 4 chapters. There is only one possibility for humans to be liberated from the suffering of existence which, according to his teachings, is true knowledge about God, man, the Universe etc. as stated in the VEDAS and UPANISHADS.

The VEDANTA school is divided into three parts according to how they regard the relationship between God and the Universe:

  1. Absolute Monism or Advaita
  2. Relative Monism or Vishista Advaita
  3. Dualism or Dvaita

Advaita

or the absolute monism acknowledges God as the only reality in the cosmos and considers the whole creation (all that is created) as unreal. There exists nothing else but one endless BRAHMAN. Creation appears to us as real due to our ignorance and this error becomes immediately obvious to us once ignorance is dispelled. SHANKARACHARYA who lived in the 8th century after Christ, was one of the most significant representatives of this philosophy. He put down the essence of VEDANTA philosphy in his work the “Viveka Chudamani” - the Jewel of Discrimination.

Vishista-Advaita

or relative monism, accepts God as a valid reality but acknowledges two other principles as reality: mind and nature (although it considers them as two aspects of the one). RAMANUJA from the 13th century, was the most significant representative of this system.

Dvaita

or dualism, postulates a separation between God and the Universe. This school teaches that the human Soul, however near it may come to God, can never unite with him. Mind and nature are two realities separate from God. MADHURA-ACHARYA from the 14th century, was a great philosopher of this school.

The Scriptures of ADVAITA are characterised by a brilliant logic and adhering proof. The relative monism is a kind of compromise between ideal logic and limited human knowledge. The dualistic school is an expression of devotion to God. Despite existing differences, all three schools hold to the basic teaching of the VEDAS and UPANISHADS.

The Vedanta philosophy is the last and the most common of the six philosophical systems in India. VYAS rejected the teaching of Sankhya that creation happens through PRAKRITI (nature) and its connection with PURUSHA (Soul). With reference to the VEDAS and UPANISHADS he explains that the Universe was created by God and directly from him with help of His divine MAYA.

Many philosophers wrote commentaries and interpretations on Vedanta. The most significant is that from SHANKARACHARYA. Shankaracharya adopted the theory of absolute monism – ADVAITA. For him there is only one reality – God. The Universe and the whole of creation are unreal. They only appear to be real through the power of divine Maya or Illusion. The creation of the world by God and from Him, may be compared to that analogy of the spider's web. Within its own body the spider produces the substance for the web. Ignorance causes our error when we think the Universe is real. It is similar to the situation when somebody looks at a rope on the ground and sees it as a snake, or sees a mirror as water.

Knowledge or the perception of God uniting with creation, can be reached through the following three techniques:

  1. Studying or hearing the Holy Scriptures
  2. Meditation on the truth in these works
  3. Samadhi or Spiritual Union. In this state, the Truth is consciously experienced and realised.

Vedanta gives exact instruction about purification of the mind which makes possible Realisaton of the supreme Truth, God and the Universe. Following these instructions leads to Liberation.

Kumbha Mela

The meeting all of our senses, mind, consciousness, Atma and Jiva: that is Kumbha Mela. TheVessel (Kumbh) is our body. There is a constant battle inside of us between the Devas (divine qualities) and asuras (demonic qualities): what will prevail depends on us.

Paramhans Swami Maheshwaranada,
Zagreb, 22 June 2010, lecture about “Kumbha Mela”


Kumbha Mela is a mass pilgrimage on which millions of people participate. It takes place every 12 years, alternating in four different locations: Prajag (Illahabad), where the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati conjoin, Haridwar on the Ganges river, Ujjain on Kshipra river and Nasik on the river Godavari. Ardh Kumbh Mela takes place every six years in Haridwar and Prayag, whereas Poorna (complete) Kumbh Mela is always held in Prayag every 12 years. Maha Kumbh Mela (the Great Kumbh Mela) comes after every 12 Poorna Kumbh Melas (every 144 years) and is held also in Prayag (the last Maha Kumbh Mela was in 2001, it saw the participation of about 60 million people, making it the largest gathering of people in the world).

The origin of the name Kumbha Mela

According to the ancient texts – the Puranas; devas and asuras (gods and demons) were churning the ocean to take out amrit (the nectar of immortality). After nearly destroying the world, they got the bowl of nectar, but then a terrible fight began about who would get the nectar. During that fight, Jayanta, the son of Indra, took kumbha amrita (the word kumbha means the vessel) and from it four drops fell to earth, in Prayag, Ujjain, Nasik and Haridwat. In search for this “nectar of immortality” (self-realisation and liberation), spiritual seekers visit these four places on which, at specific constellations, Melas are held (mela means gathering).

Ritual bathing and gathering of saints 

Bathing in holy rivers during the Kumbha Mela is considered a very important part of the spiritual life of every person, because it brings the purity of body and soul, and leads to liberation. All sins are surrendered to Mother Ganga, who will purify them, and as a gift she is offered good deeds and prayers.

Kumbh Melas are occasions where saints and enlightened masters have gathered for thousands of years. It is a unique opportunity to see in one place and at the same time many Mahatmas, Paramhansas, enlightened teachers, sadhus etc. It is said that every grain of sand on the Kumbha Mela carries immense blessings, because it was touched by the feet of the saints, and that the air that is being inhaled also carries blessings, because the wind brought it from the body of a saint. These are places where legends and stories do not feel distant and unattainable anymore, but become a part of everyday life, and traditions and religion merge into one, becoming that from which they emerged – Sat Sanatan Dharma.

For spiritual seekers, Kumbha Mela is the moment when the spiritual life gets another dimension – that of happiness and fulfilment, thus giving an incentive to continue their journey towards the goal which is Atma Gyana.

Haridwar

According to Hindu mythology, Haridwar is one of the seven holiest places, because it is believed that the gods in Haridwar left traces of their feet. Called also by the names of Mayapur, Gangadwar and Mokshadwar in ancient writings, Haridwar remains the most important place of pilgrimage for Hindus.

Haridwar lies at the foot of the Himalayan area Shivalik, and a legend says that Lord Shiva sent the Ganges to quench the thirst of people by spinning Her out of his bundled hair (bun). This is how she descended to the fields of Haridwar. From here Ganga continues towards east and south through Illahabad (Prayag), Varanasi, Patna and Calcutta all the way to the Ganga Sagar, where it merges with the ocean.

Throughout the entire year devotees and believers from around the world come to Haridwar for pilgrimage, performing pujas, prayers and ritual bathing. However what Haridwar is most known for are the Kumbh and Ardh Kumbh Mela, which are held every 12 years of the solar cycle. At that point in time millions of devotees and visitors dive into the most sacred river in India to achieve liberation. One of the most beautiful scenes during Kumbh Mela in Haridwar is the singing of Aarti (prayer) at Har ki Pauri ghat (ghats are the entrances/walkways/steps to the Ganges) with hundreds of participants and oil lamps floating down the Ganges.

Prayag (Illahabad)

The original name of this town is Prayag, and even today it is called this by most of the Hindus. Prayag means a sacred place of connection of two or more rivers, an estuary. In Illahabad, all three sacred rivers of India merge together – Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati and this is considered to be the most sacred of all estuaries in India. Prayag is the second oldest city in India, and is also called Thirti Raj (the king of all places of pilgrimage).

The place where all three rivers meet is called Sangham (the unification) and it is the central point of pilgrimage. During Kumbha Mela, millions of people gather at the Sangham, which becomes a small city within a city. It is believed that the Ashram of a great saint – Bharadvaya, which hosted Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana during their exile, was located at Sangham.

 

Adi Shankar and his four disciples 

Adi Shankar had four main disciples called Padampad, Hastamalak, Sureshwar and Trotak. He founded 4 peeths (a peeth literally means chair, here it has the meaning of lineage): Jyotir Math (math is a monastic order, a monastery) in the north, Shringeri Math in the south, Govardhan Math at Jagannath Puri in the east and Sarada Math in the west, and each of his four disciples were set as the leader of one of the maths.

The disciples of Hastamalak (Govardhan Math from Jagannath Puri) have "Van" and "Aranya" written after their names. The students of Sureshwar (Jyotir Math, Badri Math) have added to their names "Giri", "Parvat" and "Sagar", and disciples of Trotak (Shringeri Math) write "Puri", "Bharthi" and "Saraswati" behind their names. In this way all sannyasis took one of these surnames, which gave rise to the institution Dasnami (the 10 names) among the sannyasis.

The Dasnami monks are divided into two categories, those who hold the scriptures – Shastradharis and those who hold weapons – Astradharis

 

History of the Origin of Akharas

Sanatan Dharma and the Young Sadhus

During the invasion of Mahmud Gazuri, Mohammad Ghori and Taimur, thousands of Hindu temples were razed to the ground, and millions of Hindus were killed. Things were no better even when the Muslims ruled India.

Realising the dangers of oppression and persecution of the followers of Sanatan Dharma by the fanatics and aggressors of other religions, Adi Shankara realized that spiritual power alone is not enough. He wanted younger sadhus to gain muscle strength through physical exercises, and to gain proficiency in the use of weapons. The maths where they practised such skills have become known as "akharas" (literally: a wrestling place).

Adi Shankara advised akharas to resist by force, if necessary, the persecution of Hindus and desecration of their sanctuaries. During the Muslim invasion and the Muslim rule, these akharas were the barrier against attacks on Hindu people, their shrines and institutions. Many times armed members of the akharas bravely resisted the persecution of Hindus and desecration of temples. Rulers often sought the help of the Naga soldiers in their wars. They famously fought many battles and a huge power of akharas reached up to 40,000 people. After India's independence, akharas lost their military character, and their saints strongly dedicated themselves to preaching and propagating the eternal values of the ancient Indian culture and philosophy. 

13 Akharas 

There are 13 akharas in Haridwar and each of them, under the guidance of highly revered saints, has numerous Mahamandaleshwars. Most of them have their own ashrams and disciples even outside Haridwar.

 Atal Akhara, the oldest one, was established in 646 in Gondvana. That akhara was revitalized in 1704, and its headquarters is in Patan, though there is an ashram in Kankhal as well. The current head of the akhara is Acharya Sri Mahamandaleshwar Mangalanand Giri. 

Maha Nirvani Akhara is an offspring of Atal Akhara. After being denied the Gajanandaji's Prashad (blessed food), the seven sadhus of Atal Akhara went away and started doing tapasya (austerities) at Gangasagar. They had darshan (divine appearance) of Kapil Muni and with his blessings they found this akhara in the year 748 near Neel Dhara in Haridwar. In 1260, 22,000 naga saints under the leadership of their spirited leader Mahanta Bhavanand Giri, liberated Kankhal of Muslim invaders. The present akhara is at the exact place where they set up their first flag. This akhara owns the Daksheswar temple, and its present head is Acharya Sri Mahamandaleshwar Vishwadevanand.

Avahan Akhara was founded in 646 and reorganised in 1603. The headquarters of this akhara is Dasamegh Ghat in Varanasi (Benares). It also has an ashram in Rishikesh. Famous warriors from this akhara were Swami Anupgiri and Umrao Giri. The present acharya is Sri Swami Mahamandaleshwar Shivendra Puri. 

Anand Akhara was founded in Berar (in Madhya Pradesh state) in 855, and its main centre is in Varanasi, though it has ashrams also in Haridwar. Its acharya is Mahamandaleshwar Devanand Saraswati.

Niranjani Akhara was founded in Mandva (Gujarat) in 903. Its main center is Daranganj, Allahabad. They have a beautiful ashram at Dam Kothi in Haridwar. Mansadevi and Vilvakesar temples of Haridwar belong to this akhara. The present acharya is Sri Mahamandaleshwar Punyanand Giri. 

Juna Akhara is also called Bhairav Akhara. It was established in 1145 AD in Karan Prayag, Uttarkhand. Its main centre is Mara Hanuman Ghat in Varanasi, and its ashram in Haridwar is near the Mayadevi temple. Its acharya is Sri Mahamandaleshwar Lokeshanand Giri. 

Agni Akhara was founded in 1136 AD and its acharya is Sri Mahamandaleshwar Swami Prakashanand Maharaj.  

The above 7 akharas originate from the naga saints. In addition, there are two akharas of Udasin SampradayaBara Udasin Akhara and Udasin Naya Akhara, one Nirmal Akhara and three Vaishnava Bhairagi Sampradaya akharasDigambar Ani Akhara, Panch Ani Akhara and Nirmohi Ani
Akhara. 

Shahi Snan

On the occasion of Shahi Snan (royal bath) of Maha Kumbha Mela mahamandaleshwars, mahants, acharyas and the heads of all the 13 akharas participate in the beautifully decorated procession to the place of bathing.

The Initiation into Mahamandaleshwar
in Allahabad During the Kumbh Mela 2013

On Wednesday 13th February 2013 in Priyag Raj (Allahabad) in India, where more than 140 million people bathed at the intersection of the three holy rivers – Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati, two Croats became mahamandaleshwars.

 At the Kumbha Mela, through this highest initiation into mahamandaleshwars, the leaders of the Hindu monasteries expressed a great, and for a foreigner, extremely rare honour to these two Croats.

 This title is equivalent to the title of archbishop in Christianity. The new mahamandaleshwars are Mahamandaleshwar Gyaneshwar Swami Puri and Mahamandaleshwar Swami Vivek Puri who studied Indian mythology, history, spirituality and Sanskrit language. Mahamandaleshwar Swami Vivek Puri is also the president of the Hindu religious community of Croatia.

 

 

Ashram and Satsang

Ashram

A Spiritual Place

According to the Vedic tradition and the teachings of the Vedas, one definition of the word ‘ashram’ (a – welcome, shram – to work) is a place where you are welcome to do something for others and for yourself. In this way ashram is a place where you work on yourself in a spiritual sense.

It is a place of spiritual activity through daily practice of yoga, equally in all its forms: the practice of karma yoga, bhakti yoga, gyan yoga and raja yoga. Ashram is a place where you will find refuge without any discrimination and where you are always welcome. Anashram is a refuge. The purpose of life in the ashram is the same as the meaning of yoga- enlightenment and moksha.

The ashram is usually populated with sannyasis and aspirants who have the desire and ability to fully devote a period of their life to spirituality. One of the major purposes of an ashram is to offer a place of spiritual gathering for people who lead a worldly life. We can safely say that ashrams are lighthouses and harbors on the stormy sea of samsara.

In the ashram, during satsangs, spiritual strength is renewed so that one can stay focused on Sat Sanatan Dharma and God during their everyday life, and more easily recognise and avoid the pitfalls of maya – worldliness.

Besides the regular satsangs and organised yogic activities for the community, ashrams often have Gurukuls (schools where students live and where, besides learning worldly knowledge, they also practice spiritual skills) and Gosalas (a place for old and sick animals to be taken care of).

Ashrams have always been, and continue to be, the main gathering point for communities living in surrounding areas. A place of safety, a place where students and locals came to their teacher – Guru,for a darshan and advice; places where they could get any kind of help and spiritual guidance for their life.

The Four Stages of Life

The term ashram also means the four periods of life in accordance with the Sanatan Dharma:

  • Brahmacharya Ashram (Birth – 25 years of age) is the time of discipleship and celibacy, when we dedicate ourselves to learning, spiritual disciplines and secular knowledge.
  • Grahasta Ashram (25 – 50 years of age) is the time for creating family and for domestic life. It is a time when spiritual activities are conducted together with the worldly life and through helping others.
  • Vanaprastha Ashram (50 – 75 years of age) is the time when we devote ourselves more to spirituality, and serve the community and environment as a role model, advisor and transmitter of tradition and culture to younger generations.
  • Sannyasa Ashram (75 onwards) is the time for a full withdrawal from the world, when all worldly duties and positions cease to exist. (Sannyasa can be chosen as a way of life at any time.)

Code of Conduct in the Ashram

The Ashram is a place of spirituality, peace and inner joy. It is also a place of spiritual work – internal and external alike. Therefore, one should cultivate and maintain the atmosphere of holiness, harmony, understanding, unity, selflessness and service. An ashram is not a suitable place for conversations or activities contrary to the spiritual principles and ahimsa (comprehensive nonviolence).

The ashram of every spiritual school has its own special code of conduct, but here are some general rules that are respected in all places: In an ashram it is not advisable to talk about mundane subjects, politics, and the like. It is advised to avoid irresponsible behavior, criticism, gossiping, arrival in unsuitable clothing or arrival at inappropriate times (during meditation, prayer, other programs and night rest). The clothes in which you come to the ashram should encourage a spiritual atmosphere and be clean. Some schools have their own "uniforms" that need to be understood in the same way kimonos are used in martial arts – it is the clothing through which you show respect to the ashram, to your school, your teacher, and, at the end, to yourself and everyone around you.

Satsang

Satsang literally means "encounter with the truth". In Sanskrit sat means the truth, and sanga means company. Satsang represents the meeting with the highest truth and with an enlightened Guru. Satsang is one of the nine parts of bhakti yoga according to the Narada Bhakti Sutras.

Satsang also means good company in which we nurture our spirituality and bhakti, and where we are led by the Uttana – the principle of going higher in the spiritual evolution. As opposed to kusang (bad company, where we are led by Patana – that which leads us to the decline in spiritual evolution). It is said that satsang is so important that a mere word at a satsang can save one's life. There are countless stories and bhajans, which confirm this fact.

Hinduism

Many world religions were named after the prophets who founded them in ancient times. Christianity is named after Christ, Buddhism after Buddha, but the word Hindu is not derived from the names of any particular prophet. The word Hindu is derived from the name of a river located in the Northwest of India, which is called Sindhu. Sindhu is a river which nowadays is know as Ind. The teachings of Hinduism are known as apauruseja, which means they are not based on an authority. What this really means is that the Hindu religion is not based on any individual, but on principles. This is a very important statement since it emphasizes that Hinduism is received through revelation, and is not an invention of an individual or group of individuals. As scientists do not make the laws of nature, but they discover them, so Rishis, the transmitters of the Hindu religion, did not find the spiritual laws but came to know them.

Hinduism represents a living synthesis of various religious insights based on God's revelation and the immediate experience of the manifestation of the Divine through its countless forms, as well as through the formless, transcendental principle.

Hinduism is also called Vaidika Dharma-the religion of the Vedas. It is also a way of life that is in accordance with the eternal spiritual, ethical and moral laws of Sat Sanatan Dharma - the primordial spirituality and religion.

Sat Sanatan Dharma means “Eternal Religion”, “the true relationship with the Divine Self”, and is therefore what keeps the society and the civilization together by means of a proper living. In a wider sense it means getting to know the eternal laws which control everything. The search after these laws and the implementation of them for the benefit of all is the way of practicing religion. It is non-dogmatic and universal - it respects the freedom of opinion of each individual, it worships the truth in all religions and the internal unity of all living beings and of all that is. Sanathan Dharma teaches chaste living in accordance with the principles of Yamas and Niyamas, such as non-violence - Ahimsa, truth - Satya, purity - Saucha, wisdom, honesty, self-control, control of lust, non-revengefullness, non-belligerence, love towards the creation and all living beings and the liberation from the negative traits such as hatred, anger, greed, jealousy and pride. Hinduism attaches great value to commitment, humility, charity, selfless service, willingness to sacrifice and humility, and it practises the worship of the Divine through Puja ceremony, internal contemplation - Upasana and meditation - Dhyana, as well as the development of Divine qualities. The ultimate goal is to achieve true inner freedom - Moksha, through the victory over ignorance - Avidya and realisation of the supreme knowledge - Paravidya that brings the highest, complete inner freedom and joy. This goal means to achieve unity with our Source - Paramatma, ie. to achieve Self-Realization - Atam-Gyana, the knowledge of our own Self, which is the same as the Absolute.

The Transmitters of Hinduism

Although Hinduism is based on principles, great emphasis is placed on persons as well, who have discovered and revived these spiritual principles. They can experience and carry the message of Hinduism differently, as it is depicted in the following story:

While walking in the forest, four friends saw a large, circular wall behind which there seemed to be a lot of fun and music going on. They were curious to see what is behind the wall. The three of them lifted the fourth on the top of the wall to see what is happening. He was so overwhelmed by the impressions that he could not tell his friends what he saw. He simply climbed over the wall and disappeared on the other side. Then the two of the remaining three friends lifted the third one to the top of the wall. He too became so excited by what he saw that he began to sing and dance on top of the wall, and after some time he disappeared behind the other side as well.

The remaining two friends also wanted to look over the wall. One helped the other to climb. He was also overwhelmed by what he saw. He did not disappear behind the wall, but stretched himself over the wall and helped the fourth friend to come to the top so that he too can see the other side.

The first friend, who quietly disappeared to the other side of the wall, symbolizes those silent prophets and hermits who, once they become self-realized, merge with God unnoticed. The second friend who started singing and dancing after he saw what was behind the wall, represents those saintly persons that reveal to others their vision of God, but are not able to convey their own experiences. The third friend that has spread across the wall and helped the last friend to climb the wall symbolizes Guru.

This third friend is unique because it has the power to offer the experience of God to others.

Avatar

The word avatar means “one who descends”. Avatar is God in human body. Hindus say that whenever Dharma is on decline God appears on earth in human form for the benefit of mankind, and rejuvenation of spirituality. Avatar has the unique ability to transform others spiritually, even just by touching or looking at them.

Guru

Guru means teacher. The Sanskrit word root gu means ignorance, darkness, and ru means light; therefore this word defines the role of the guru as the one who removes the darkness of ignorance. Satguru is a spiritual, realized teacher who realized the wisdom of the Scriptures by his/her own experience and who can inspire others with his/her knowledge and radiation - he/she is Brahmanistha Srotriyam - the knower of Brahman, the Absolute.

Sannyasi

Swami - one who knows, who has mastered himself; it is the title of Hindu monks, the sannyasis. A Sannyasi is the one who has renounced the material world and accepted life based on spiritual principles. Swamis traditionally wear orange clothing, which symbolizes fire, purification, and spend their lives seeking for God realization and working for the benefit of mankind.

Acharya

Acharya literally means a special teacher who teaches by example. Acharya is also a title reserved for the heads of some Hindu religious fractions.                                         

Modes of transmission of knowledge in Hinduism

Rishis received knowledge in deep meditation directly from God through the Dev Vani - the voice of God and then passed it on to others. Such knowledge is called Sruti - what is heard, and this knowledge was not written down until the modern days, but was taught by heart, repeated and transmitted from teacher to disciple.

Vedas and Agamas are Sruti. Smriti means memory, knowledge that was not revealed through Dev Vani but derived from experiences and memories, it is the knowledge how it was remembered – in other words – tradition.

Shastras are religious records, books. The Vedas are the most important scriptures of Hinduism, they are the very root of Hinduism.

Purana literally means old, ancient. They are instructive stories, tales about gods and heroes whose aim is to teach people moral life. The most famous Mahapurana is the Bhagavata which speaks about different incarnations of Lord Vishnu, especially the one of Lord Krishna. Together with the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (the two most important epics in Hinduism), the Puranas constitute what is sometimes regarded as the fifth Veda.

Bhagavad Gita, part of the Mahabharata scripture, is one of the most important scriptures in Hiduism. It speaks about Lord Krishna giving Arjuna the essence of the Upanishads. Bhagavad Gita teaches how to practice religion in daily life.

 The concept of God

One of the most common errors in the interpretation of Hinduism is that it is a polytheistic religion. Hinduism is actually a pluralistic religion. This name means that each person has a unique relationship with God- Brahman. It teaches that God is only one, regardless of the appearance and the form in which we worship him.

There are three divine principles through which God manifests himself and these are:

Brahma, the creative principle, Vishnu, the principle of maintenance, and Shiva, the Liberator.

One of the most important features of Hinduism is that God, Brahman does not need to be searched for outside ourselves, but inside ourselves.

The ultimate goal of the spiritual practice is the union of Atma - the Self with Paramatma - the Absolute.

Beliefs

Hindus believe in reincarnation (rebirth) according to the law of karma (The law of cause and effect that we create ourselves). With good deeds, thoughts and words we create good karma, and with bad actions, thoughts and words, bad karma is created.

Samsara- meaninglessness, is the cycle of birth and death from which one is liberated through Moksha - enlightenment, self-realization, the union of Atma with Paramatma.

One of the highest principles is Ahimsa - non-violence. If we believe that all beings are an expression of the Divine, that God is in everything and that God is everything, then it is absolutely necessary that the highest principle is the principle of non-violence. For this reason, the Hindus are vegetarians.

Samskaras - impressions, sacraments. There are 16 samskaras. Samskaras accompany man from conception until death, when he receives the final samskara- the funeral ceremony.

 

Festivals

Makar Sankranti 14. 01. 2017.
Vasant Panchami 01. 02. 2017.
Maha Shivaratri 24/25. 02. 2017.
Holi 12. 03. 2017.
Sri Ram Navaratri 28. 03. 2017.
Hindu New Year 28. 03. 2017.
Ramnavami 05. 04. 2017.
Hanuman Jayanti 11. 04. 2017.
Guru Purnima 08/09. 07. 2017.
Raksha Bandhan 07. 08. 2017.
Krishna Janmashthami 15. 08. 2017.
Ganesh Chaturthi 25. 08. 2017.
Pitr Paksha − start Pitru Purnima 05. 09. 2017.
Pitr Paksha − end  Sarvam Pitru Amawasya 19. 09. 2017.
Autumn Navaratri − start 20. 09. 2017.
Autumn Navaratri − end 29. 09. 2017.
Dasera 30. 09. 2017.
Sharad Purnima 04/05. 10. 2017.
Diwali 19. 10. 2017.
Lakshmi Puja 20. 10. 2017.
Vikram New Year 2074 20. 10. 2017.

Moon calendar - Tithi

Year 2017.  UTC Date

A Tithi (also spelled Thithi) is a lunar day, and it is one of the most important aspects of the Indian Almanac or the Panchang. Most Hindu festivals and ceremonies are based on the Tithi calendar, and the lunar month contains 30 days.

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Makar Sankranti

Makar Sakranti is the only festival celebrated according to the solar calendar and falls on January 14th. Literally Sakranti means to move from one place to another – to change direction. It is the time when the sun changes its direction and starts moving northward. The Winter Solstice came to an end and days become longer and brighter. This period of 6 months in which the sun travels northward is important for spiritual aspirants since it represents moving towards the spiritual goal – the Atam Gyana. That is also why Bhishma, the legendary hero from Mahabharata, and the grandfather of Pandavas, who was lying wounded on his "Bed of Arches", waited that day to finally depart from this world.

The sun means knowledge, spirituality and wisdom, and for those aspiring to develop spiritually Makar Sakranti is a reminder to gradually start moving from darkness into light and wisdom. To turn away from bad habits and move towards light, to grow in purity, wisdom and spirituality.

The day preceding Makar Sakranti is called the festival of Bhogi. On that day all old, useless, dirty and destroyed items are burned. All houses and yards are cleaned, which has a positive impact on health, since from that point the warmer part of the year begins, and the spreading of diseases is thus prevented. Symbolically, it is the cleaning of our minds from all old and impure habits, thinking and emotions. When we observe Makar Sakranti it means we want to bring change into our lives and we are ready to head towards the light. On this day Sannyas Dikshas are traditionally performed.

Vasant Panchami

PictureVasant Panchami is one of the more important festivals of India. It marks the beginning of spring and it is a festival dedicated to Sarasvati, the protector of learning, knowledge and wisdom. It is believed that it is also her birthday. On this day Brahma created Sarasvati and granted her the skill of speech and placed vina (an Indian instruments) in her hands. That is why her names are also Vila Vandini, the player of vina and Vani Dajan, the receiver of speech. As Brahma's consort, Saraswati has many other names, and some of them are: Vinapani, Sarada, Vagisvari, Brahmi, Mahavidya, etc.

During Vasant Panchami the important colour is yellow, as it represents the budding of fruit trees and other plants, as well as a new birth. In India people dress in yellow, make sweets and other yellow-coloured food (with saffron). The food is then distributed to relatives and friends, the temples are decorated with yellow flowers, and Sarasvati is worshipped in all forms and through different rituals. Under her feet depicted on various images and statues of her people place books, musical instruments and similar. Vasant Panchami is considered to be an auspicious time for starting studies, so it is especially celebrated in schools, colleges and among students. It is said to be the most auspicious day for starting to learn something new.

There is one more story related to this day. With his third eye Lord Shiva burned Kamdev (the Lord of Passion), who was sent by Devas (Gods) to hit Shiva with his arrow in order to awake inside of him the passion to have a son powerful enough to defeat the deamon Takasura. Shiva was in deep Samadhi and got very furious when Kamdev disturbed him while trying to hit him with the arrow. Then Lord Shiva turned him into dust with his third eye. The symbolic meaning of this story is that passion awakes in springtime, but our consciousness – Shiva – needs to control it, and not be enslaved by it.

Vasant Panchami is a festival marking the change in season as well, so on this day people celebrate the arrival of spring and a new beginning of life. On this day, Bashant (the Spirit of Spring) again returns to Earth. That is why this holiday is also called Bashant Panchami.

Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri means the Great Night of Shiva, a festival dedicated to Lord Shiva and celebrated according to the Lunar Calendar on the 14th day of the waning phase of the moon Falgun (February-March). The ceremony and the celebration takes place on the night between the 14th and the 15th. One belief is that this is the day when Shiva and Parvati got married. Furthermore, it is believed that this is the night when Shiva performed Tandava – the dance of the primordial creation, maintenance and destruction. In Linga Purana it is said that on this day Shiva manifested himself in the form of Lingam.

There are many stories and legends related to Maha Shivaratri, and one of the most popular is the one about Lord Shiva drinking poison in order to save the world, and this is where the blue throat of Lord Shiva comes from – Nil Kant Mahadev, as depicted on many images. Devas and Asuras were churning the ocean to get Amrita - the Nectar of Immortality. They used the Snake Vasuki as the stirring, churning rope. When Amrit was almost at the point of being extracted, the first thing that came out of the mouth of the snake was a deadly poison. Control over the poison was lost, so it threatened to destroy the entire world with its vapors and immerse it into darkness. When they realized what happened, Devas ran for help both to Brahma and Visnu, but nobody could help them. Finally Lord Shiva drank the entire poison in order to save the Universe. The poison remained in his throat. Even though he was strong enough to neutralize it, he had to stay awake the entire night, so in order to keep him awake, Gods kept him company and entertained Him with songs and dance. In memory of this, on that day the devotees of Shiva stay awake all night and close to their Lord. This story has a deeper symbolical meaning. Devas and Asuras represent different people, the good and the bad ones. The Ocean of Milk represents the perfect world full of peace and happiness for all. Amrit represents happiness, and the poison is human selfishness and greed. Shiva symbolizes Atma – the Self. People do many things in order to be happy and often they are overpowered by their own selfishness and greed that destroy all efforts at keeping the peace and happiness. Therefore the only way to attain peace and happiness and overcome greed and selfishness is to meditate on Atma, the Divine Self, in the night, because it is the only time when a man is undisturbed by the material world.  

The second story relates to a hunter who shot many birds and got stuck in the woods in the evening. To protect himself from wild animals and survive the night which came upon him while he was hunting, he climbed the tree called Bilva – bael. In order to stay awake, the hunter was picking leaves one by one and throwing them to the ground. It happened so that under that tree, whose leaves were holy, was a Shiva Lingam, so it turned out that the hunter was doing Pooja to Lord Shiva the entire night. Shiva was very pleased by the hunter and saved him despite the hunter's past of killing so many birds. This story, as all others, has many different versions, but the point is the same – no matter what the sins and the way of life, the one who observes fasts, prayers and pooja in the night of Shivaratri is granted great mercy from Lord Shiva. In memory of this story, the ceremony of Maha Shivaratri includes the offering of bael leaves as well.

According to the tradition, the day of Maha Shivaratri is observed with severe fasting, meditation and prayer. The night is observed with the vigil in the temples and ashrams, together with mantra singing, meditations and abisheka performed every three hours.

 

Abisheka

There are many different ways to express devotion and love towards God. Pooja is a type of prayer, a ritual which sometimes includes all the three ways, the physical – kaya, through the speech – vatcha, singing mantras and bhajanas, and mental – mansa – japa or meditation. There are many types of pooja, and abisheka belongs to Sodasopachara pooja. Abisheka is a ceremony of bathing a specific deity, especially by pouring libations on it. Unlike abisheka, where water or nectar is used, the element through which a havan is performed is fire, the flame. There are more ways of performing abisheka, from the simple pouring of water to the bathing of what is worshipped in a specially prepared nectar. The nectar is sometimes enriched with sandal paste or powder, as well as rose water or coconut milk, according to the tradition of the particular area. During abisheka, people sing matras and pray mentally for blessing – in this case the blessing of Lord Shiva. The exact way of performing Maha Shivaratri pooja is described in Shiva Purana. The abisheka of the Shiva Lingam is part of that pooja. Abisheka is performed with a nectar that consists of milk, joghurt, honey and sugar, water and ghee. Milk represents the blessing of purity and holiness, joghurt is for prosperity, honey to speak nice words, sugar for happiness, water for purity and ghee for victory. During abisheka people sing "Om Namah Shivaya" or Maha Mrityujaya Mantra.                                                  

Holi

The celebration of the festival of Holi is very old in its origin and is described already in the ancient writings sutras. In its essence, that festival is the celebration of the final victory of good over evil. Literally, Holi means burning out, and, like all the other spiritual festivals, it has many legends connected to it, all of them having one thing in common – in the end the evil is defeated, and burned, and the victory of good is celebrated. Apart from the story about Prahlad, there is a story of an evil witch Putana who wanted to poison the baby Krishna by offering him her poisonous milk, but instead of succeeding, she was burned at bonfires. There is also the victory of Lord Shiva over Kamdev, who was burned by the Lord Shiva's third eye when he tried to trick him on the day of Holi. The following legend narrates how the grandchildren of one grandmother had to be sacrificed to a female demon, Holika. The sadhus told the grandmother that Holika can be defeated by laughing at her. So she gathered some children who surrounded Holika and started to laugh at her. The deamon fell dead on the ground and the children made a bonfire and burned her...and many others of her kind.

The story about Prahlad:

Hiryankaship was a very famous demon and a king. Lord Vishnu killed his younger brother, who was a demon as well, so Hiryankaship wanted to take revenge on him by becoming the king of all three worlds (of the sky, earth and the underground) To attain his goal, he performed different sacrifices for many years and finally gained some power. By thinking he has the power to defeat even Gods, he became so overtaken by his ego that he commanded that nobody in his kingdom was allowed to pray to God, not even to mention His name, but to worship him only.

Yet, Hiranyakaship had a son named Prahlad who was a true devotee of Lord Vishnu since his early age and did not obey the rules given by his father. He constantly repeated the mantra "Jay Sri Hari". When after many attempts at making his son change his mind, the king realized he would not succeed and decided to kill Prahlad. He ordered, one after the other, a number of the most brutal executions of Prahlad, but thanks to Vishnu's mercy the latter would escape them unhurt each time.

The king had a sister, Holika, who had a siddhi (power) of not being able to be hurt by fire. So one day, after many attempts at killing Prahlad had failed, the king ordered Prahlad to sit in Holika's lap and to sit together on a burning bed. But to his surprise, Holika was burned, and Prahlad came out of the fire unhurt. Therefore, Holi celebrates the victory of Prahlad, the symbol of good, over Holika, the symbol of evil. It conveys to us the message that God always takes care of and protects his devotees. Despite all the hardships that Bhaktas encounter, He is the one who always saves them.

The story ends with the complete victory of good over evil. After Holika's death, the king ordered Prahlad to embrace an incandescent steel column which he prepared for him previously. While approaching the column, Prahlad thought of seeing thousands ants walking up and down the column and thought that if they can walk on that column, then he can embrace it as well. Full of bhakti and trust in his Lord, he went to embrace the column. At that moment the column split and out of it came Narsingh, the incarnation of Vishnu (half human, half lion) who caught and killed Hiryankaship. A part of the power Hiryankaship got through his sadhana was the blessing that he cannot be killed by either a human or by an animal, during daytime or in the night, in the house, or outside of it. That is why Vishnu incarnated as Narsingh, and caught and killed the king on the doorstep of his palace – which was neither in the house, nor outside of it, and at sunset – which was neither during daytime nor in the night.

In memory of this story, the night before Holi people all over India light bonfires so the evil can be burnt in them. The custom of coloring each other with paint has its roots in Lord Krishna, who popularized the tradition of Holi. Coloring others with paint is one of his numberless Divine plays and playful childhood tricks with his followers in Vrindavan.

As with all other spiritual festivals, versions of this story can be found almost in all traditions. Around that time people in Croatia celebrate "Fasnik", which is but one of the numerous names of this festival that is common throughout the region, which in its essence carries the same meaning – people laugh at the symbol of evil, burn it at huge bonfires and rejoice over the victory of good over evil.

 

Hanuman Jayanti - The Birthday of Sri Hanumanji

Sri Hanumanji is respected all over India, individually or in connection with Sri Rama. In every temple dedicated to Rama there is an image – murti of Sri Hanuman. Hanuman is the Avatar of Lord Shiva. His father is Lord of the Wind, and his mother is Anjani Devi. He is called by other names as well: Pavanasuta, Marutsuta, Pavankumar, Bajrangabali i Mahavir.

He was the living incarnation of the power of Rama's name, Ram-Nam, the ideal of the selfless work, a true Karma Yogi who worked dynamically and without any wishes. He was a great devotee and a Brahmachari. His service to Sri Rama was full of pure love and devotion, free from all expectations of the fruits of his work. He lived in order to serve. He was humble, brave, wise and had all divine qualities. He would do what others couldn't – cross the ocean by repeating Rama's name only, burn the city of Lanka and bring the holy plant Sanjivni that helped Lakshman to survive. He brought back Sri Rama and Lakshman from the underground world after killing Ahiravan. He never bragged about his courage and intelligence. Once he told Ravana: "I am a divine messenger of Sri Rama. I have come here to serve Rama, to do His work. I came here upon the call of Lord Rama. My lack of fear is Lord Rama's mercy. I am not afraid of death. Death is welcome, as long as it comes while serving Lord Rama." These words demonstrate how much Hahnuman was devoted to Lord Rama. He never said: "I am the brave Hanuman. I can do anything and everything."

His birthday falls on Chitra Sukla Purnima – full moon day between March and April. On that holy day worship Sri Hanumanji, fast and read Hanuman Chalisa. Spend an entire day by repeating Rama's name. Sri Hanuman Chalisa is a prayer to Hanuman composed by Tulsidas.                                                                  

 

Guru Purnima

Guru Purnima is a festival dedicated to the glory of Guru, a day when disciples come for Darshan to their Guru. For spiritual aspirants it is the most important festival of the year, when they should be with their master, either physically or mentally. On that day, spiritual aspirants offer fruits of their Sadhana to their Guru and also begin a "new year" of their spiritual life with a new spiritual Sankalpa (resolution) with the blessings of Guru. Guru Purnima is the day when the first ray of light came to planet Earth, and it is also the birthday of Maharishi Sri Ved Vyasa who wrote down Vedas, composed 18 Puranas, Mahabharata and Srimad Bhagavatam. Guru Purnima is celebrated in the month of Asadh (July-August) according to the Hindu lunar calendar. That day begins at Brahma Muhurta, and spiritual aspirants observe it first by singing Guru Gita (a part of Skanda Purana which tells about the glory of Guru in the form of a dialogue between Shiva and Parvati) and making a prayer and puja either in ashrams or in their homes. The entire day is spent in fasting and is dedicated to spiritual sadhana.

Raksha Bandhan

Raksha Bandhan is celebrated on the full moon day – Sravana Purnima – in the month August/September. This is the day when every person can choose a brother or a sister towards whom he/she feels closely connected with the feeling of true brotherhood. The brother takes upon himself a life-long duty of protecting and taking care of his sister, and the sister promises a life-long love, support and understanding to her brother. This connection is considered to be stronger than the blood relationship.

On that day sisters tie around the brother's wrist a holy thread – rakhi and thus express their love and affection, and in return the brother offers her sister a small gift and gives a promise to protect her and always be willing to help her. Raksha means protection and security, and bandhan means connection or relationship. Raksha Bandhan is a festival symbolizing the relationship between brothers and sisters through security and protection.

This day reminds us that the whole world is but one family. All people living on this planet should be our brothers and sisters. We should tie around each other's wrists rakhis of mutual respect, understanding, protection, care and love, with brotherly feelings of protection and embrace mankind with sisterly love. All living beings should be felt as being our brothers and sisters.

Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the fourth day of the bright moon phase Bhadrapad (August/September); it is the birth day of Sri Ganesh, a big festival celebrated worldwide. There is a wide variety of customs and ways of celebrating it, but as on any other festival, people worship the deity to whom that particular day is dedicated with prayers, meditations, pujas, a special prashad, flowers and satsang.

Sri Ganesha's elephant head symbolizes wisdom, and his trunk symbolizes OM. There are more versions and illustrations of what Ganesha holds in his hands. He holds in his hands mostly a stick (ankush – a stick used by the elephant riders) used for pushing humankind forward on their way towards the eternal. Ankush also represents a tool used for keeping our minds under control. The axe in his hand cuts all obstacles in our way, and with the loop of rope Ganesha gently catches those who start to go astray and keeps them on the right path. Moreover, even though Lord Ganes is famous for being the remover of obstacles, he also creates them on the path of a bhakta who goes astray from the path that leads him towards the goal. His broken tusk held like a pencil in his hand is a symbol of a sacrifice offered for writing Vedas and Mahabharata. When his pencil used for writing down the words of Maharishi Ved Vyasa broke, Ganesha did not want to interrupt the rishi in his reciting of mantras, so he broke off a piece of his tusk and continued writing. Mala (the rosary) suggests that the search for knowledge and self-realization should be constant and ceaseless, and sweets (ladhu) point to the universal goal which is to discover the sweetness of the Atma. His vehicle is a mouse that represents the conquering of ego so that the wisdom (Ganesha) can move forward. Besides that, the mouse represents a hardly noticeable degradation (a tiny invisible biting) which Ganesha also has under his control.

There is a great number of stories about Sri Ganesh, and almost all of them hiding a deeper symbolic meaning and a teaching about life, spirituality and dharma, so they should be read with attention.

Ganesha and Chandradev

Once Ganesha, on his birthday Ganesh Chaturthi, after receiving a huge amount of sweets – prashad – from his devotees (God cannot refuse what is offered to him with love from a bhakta), mounted on the mouse and started to ride him in order to relieve himself from the heaviness in his stomach and digest the sweets. It was a beautiful full moon night. Suddenly, from nowhere, a snake came out and frightened the mouse who jumped and spilled Ganesha. Ganesha's belly was full of sweets so he hit the ground in such a way that he burst and the sweets went all over the place. Ganesha was not mad with the snake but he took it and placed around his waist as a belt to keep his belly closed. He again mounted his mouse and continued. Chandradev, the Moon, saw the entire thing and roared indecently with laughter. Ganesha became angry at such behaviour, so he halved the moon and uttered a cursed upon him so that everybody who looks at the moon that day would have bad luck. Chandradev begged Ganesh to be merciful, but since a curse can never be completely reversed, Ganesha minimized it by making the moon wax and wane every 15 days and by showing itself full only for a short period of time. This explains the moon phases, and the custom not to look at the moon on that day remains today.  

The point to the story and the avoidanceof looking at the moon is that from this day on we should decide to keep away from the company of those who by lacking faith laugh at God or our master (kusang – bad company) the same way the Moon laughed at Ganesh.

Navaratri

Literally Navaratri means nine nights. This festival is celebrated twice a year, once in the beginning of summer – Ram Navaratri when Lord Rama is worshipped, and in the beginning of winter – Durga Navaratri, when Divine Mother is worshipped.

Navaratri is divided into three parts, each consisting of three days. The first three days are dedicated to Durga, who destroys all our impurities and imperfections. The following three days are dedicated to Lakshmi, the aspect of Divine Mother as a giver of spiritual prosperity. The last three days are dedicated to worshipping Sarasvati, the aspect of Divine Mother as Goddess of wisdom. To be completely successful in life, we need all three aspects of Divine Mother. Navaratri is traditionally celebrated in India by placing on the altar the image of Durga for the first three days, the second three days the image of Lakshmi and the last three days the image of Sarasvati. Those days are observed with fasting (on milk and fruit) and prayers to Divine Mother in all the three aspects.

On the ninth day of the spring Navaratri people celebrate Ram Navami, the birthday of Lord Rama. Lord Rama is born on the ninth day of the month Chitra, therefore his birthday is celebrated as "Navami" – 9. The Indian mathematicians and philosophers consider nine to be a magical number. There are nine main forms of the Goddess Durga and nine ways of Bhakti – devotion.

The tenth day of the autumn Navaratri is known as Vijaya Dasami, the day of great victory, and it is one of auspicious days of the Hindu year when children start to acquire new skills. Das and Hara mean the ten-headed Ravana who has the strength of ten elephants; Hara means that Ravana lost his battle over Lord Rama. Twenty days after follows Divali, the day of return of Lord Rama to Ayodya.

Sarad Purnima

Sarad purnima is the day that falls in the month of Asvin according to the Lunar calendar, and it is usually the tenth full moon of the year. On that day the moon is the brightest, and it is believed that his rays irradiate nectar on Earth – Amrit. Therefore, on that day people in their homes and temples prepare khir – a sweet made of rice and milk which is then offered to God, accompanied by the bells and singing of mantras and prayers. Between 9 pm and midnight that night, khir is placed under moonlight in order to absorb the nectar coming with the moon rays, and the next morning it is distributed to devotees as prashad – consecrated food. It is considered that this prashad owns many good, medicinal properties and bestows peace upon the mind. It is also believed that before eating kir, any wish we make comes true.

On Sarad Purnima people celebrate a harvest festival dedicated to Lakshmi, the Goddess of progress and prosperity both in material and in spiritual form. It is said that during that particular night Lakshmi goes around the world in search of Ko Jagarthi – means who is awake, so that she can grant him/her wealth. In the spiritual sense, to the bhakta who is awake and does not allow worldly wishes and maya in the form of sleep to come into his heart, the spiritual wealth comes by itself. In the past people used to cook khir in the fields in large pots, made of the first rice harvested at that time, and rice and milk that would boil over to the ground would bestow a special blessing to the field and to the land.

Sarad Purnima represents the divine night of Ras-Lila as well, when 5,000 years ago Radha and Krishna revealed the supreme bliss to countless Gopis in Vrindavan. Historically Ras-Lila is depicted as the dance of Lord Krishna with his Gopis during the night of Sarad Purnima, on the banks of the river Yamuna. It is said that Krishna danced with his 14,000 devotees, each one of them thinking that the Lord danced with him only. That dance illustrates the irresistible attraction between Atma and Paramatma, which is by far greater than the attraction between a magnet and an iron, or with the flow of the river towards the ocean. To that dance Lord Krishna invited his devotees, who, despite the contrary social norms, immediately accepted His invitation. The call of God is not like the call of a man, it is neither a call of a mother to her child, not even a call of a lover to his loved one. God's call to the human soul is way stronger than anything that can be imagined. According to the scriptures, during Ras-Lila the time stopped, the stars stopped moving and every feeling of separateness and individuality ceased... That was the dance of Atma with Paramatma.

Divali

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Divali is one of the greatest Indian festivals, it is a festival of light that celebrates the victory of light over spiritual darkness. "Deepavali" literally means a series of oil lamps (diyas).

Divali is celebrated on the 20th day after the festival of Dasera, according to the lunar calendar, on the 13th day of the month of Asvin (October-November). It is the day of Amavasya - new moon day.

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Mantras

Ganesh Gayatri Mantra - गणेश गायत्री मन्त्रः

Om ekadantāja vidmahe

vakratūndāja dhīmahi

tanno dantīpraćodajāt

 

We dedicate our thoughts to the Lord with one tusk. We think about him, the one who has a curved trunk. Let us be led on the right track by the one with one Tusk.

 

 

 

 

Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra - महामृत्युंजय मन्त्र

ॐत्र्यम्बकंयजामहे
सुगन्धिंपुष्टिवर्धनम्
उर्वारुकमिवमामृतात्॥
मृत्योर्मुक्षीयमामृतात्॥
Om trjambakaṁjađāmahe
sugandhiṁpušṭi-vardhanaṁ
urvārukam-iva bandhanān
mṛtjormukšīja mā ∫ mṛitāt ॥
OM we bow down to and worship Thee, the Three-eyed, Shiva. Thou art the sweet scent of life that nourishes and strengthens us. As the ripe melon, at the right time, frees itself from the stalk (with the help of a gardener), free us from attachment and death, and grant us liberation and immortality.

 

Mrityunjaya Maha Mantra is a verse from the Rig Veda (RV 7:59:12), and is mentioned in the Yajur Veda under the title "Shri Rudra Prashnaha" (Sri Rudra's question) from Taittiriya Upanishad. This mantra can also be found in many other scriptures. Maha in Sanskrit means big, mrityu means death, and jaya is victory. Mrityunjaya Maha Mantra leads to immortality, victory over death through moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death). Therefore, it is also known as "moksha mantra". On the way to the ultimate freedom (moksha), this mantra removes fear of death, obstacles in life, and protects us.

 

Karpura Gauram Mantra - कर्पूरगौरं मन्त्रः

KARPURA GAURAM KARUNĀVATĀRAM |
SAMSĀRA-SĀRAM BHUĐAGENDRA-HĀRAM ||
SADA VASANTAM HRiDAJĀRAVINDE |
BHAVAM BHAVĀNI SAHITAM NAMAMI II

कर्पूरगौरं करुणावतारम् |
संसारसारं भुजगेन्द्रहारम् ||
सदा वसन्तं हृदयारविन्दे |
भवं भवानि सहितं नमामि ||

As pure white as camphor, the incarnation of compassion, the essence of the existence of the world, whose garland is the serpent king. The one who is always residing in the lotus of the heart. Shiva and Shakti, I bow down to You both.

Vedic Timekeeping

VEDIC UNITS AND THEIR EQUIVALENTS IN HUMAN YEARS

 Satya Yuga = 1 million 728 thousand human years (1,728,000)

Treta Juga = 1 million 296 thousand human years (1,296,000)

Dvapara Yuga = 864 thousand human years (864,000)

Kali Yuga = 432 thousand human years (432,000)

Maha Yuga = all 4 Yugas - 4 million 320 thousand human years (4,320,000)

Manvantra = 71 Maha Yugas - 306 million 720 thousand human years (306,720,000)

Sandhi Kala = 4 Charanas – 1 million 728 thousand human years (1,728,000)

Manu = 1 Manvantra + 1 Sandhi Kala – 308 million 448 thousand human years (308,448,000)

1 Kalpa = 1000 Maha Yugas - 4 billion 320 million human years (4,320,106,000)

1 Brahma Day = 2 Kalpas (day and night) - 8 billion 640 million human years (8,640,106,000)

1 Brahma Month = 259 billion 200 million human years (259,200,106,000)

1 Brahma Year = 3 trillion 110 billion 400 million human years (3,110,400,106,000)

1 Brahma Life = 100 Brahma's Years 311 trillion 40 billion human years (311,040,106,000,000)

 DEVA'S (DEITIES') UNITS EQUIVALENTS

1 Deva Day = 1 human year (360 days)

1 Deva Month = 30 human years

1 Deva year = 360 human years

1 Maha Yuga = 12,000 Devas' years

SMALL VEDIC UNITS  EQUIVALENTS IN SECONDS AND MINUTES

1 Paramanu - the smallest vedic unit = around 13 microseconds (13 millionth part of a second)

1 Anu = 2 Paramanus around 26 microseconds

1 Trasarenu = 6 Anus around 0.16 miliseconds

1 Truti = 3 Trasarenu around 0.47 miliseconds

1 Vedha = 100 Trutis around 47 miliseconds

1 Lava = 3 Vedhas around 0.14 seconds

1 Muhurta = 48 minutes (2880 sec)

BIG VEDIC UNITS EQUIVALENTS IN HUMAN YEARS

1 Brahma Life = 1 blink of Vishnu (1 blink of an eye is about 2.5 sec)

1 Vishnu Day = 1 quintillion 119 quadrillion 744 trillion human years (1,119,744 1012)

1 Vishnu Month = 33 quintillion 592 quadrillion 320 trillion human years (33,592,320 1012)

1 Vishnu Year = 403 quintillion 107 quadrillion 840 trillion human years (403,107,840 1012)

1 Vishnu Life = 100 Vishnu years - 40 sextillion 310 quintillion 784 quadrillion human years (40,310,784 1015)

1 Vishnu Life = 1 blink of an eye of Rudra

100 Rudra Years = 1 Brahma Vrat

1 Brahma Vrat = 1 Creation (about 5,240 octillion human years) approx. (5,240 1027)

 

We are now in the first Vrat. So far we have had six Manvantras, and now we are in the seventh Manvantra.

In this Manvantra 27 Maha Yugas have passed already (about 1.96 billion human years).

At the same time, we are now in the first Charana of Kali Yuga, which means 5,100 years of Kali Yuga have passed, and another 426,890 years remain.

Interestingly, the oldest trace of life on Earth that scientists have discovered so far is 1.9 billion years old.

More about the Vedas and the Vedangas

Ved Vyasa

The oldest spiritual scriptures of India and of the world are called the VEDAS. Veda literally means "knowledge", specifically the highest knowledge about God and man. For Hindu people Vedas are the spiritual truth, said to have been a direct revelation from God (DEV VANI- the voice of God) to four ancient Rishis (self-realised saints) during their meditations. This truth was then passed on orally. Hence the Vedas are also called SHRUTI, which means "das Gehörte" – “the things heard”.

There are four Vedas: Rig,  Sama, Yajur and Atharva Veda.

Each Rishi received only one of them, and then passed it on: Agni Rishi – Rig Veda, Vayu Rishi – Sama Veda, Aditi Rishi – Yajur Veda, Angiras Rishi – Atharva Veda.

TheVedas were transmitted orally all the way up to Maharishi Ved Vyasa who then wrote them down. Vedas are as old as the Universe, and are said to have been on Earth for at least 20,000 years. It is believed that the Aryans, who moved to India from their original homeland near the Arctic area, carried most of these earlier scriptures with them. Later they were recorded in Sanskrit - the language created by readjusting and perfecting the original Vedic language of the Aryans.

The word Sanskrit literally means purified or perfected. The written Sanskrit characters that also existed in the Vedic language are called DEVA-NAGARI ("divine inhabitants"), and are considered symbols containing divine energy. The Aryans who came to India referred to themselves as “Aryans”. The expression – “Hindu”, as we call them now, is of more recent origin.

Rig-Veda and Sama-Veda were written in verse, Yajur-Veda in prose, and the Atharva-Veda mainly in prose and partly in verse. The Vedas contain a total of more than 24,000 mantras. Rig-Veda, the oldest and most extensive, contains 10,000 mantras.

The hymns of the Rig and Sama-Veda are dedicated to various deities and gods of nature like gods of earth, fire, rain, etc., and their aim is to forward blessings from gods for peace, happiness and prosperity.

The ceremonies contained in Yajur-Veda served the same purpose. One part of the Vedas also consists of rules for interpreting Vedic ceremonies and philosophical discussions about God, the soul and the afterlife.

Each of the four Vedas consists of four parts, which are called Veda-Samhita. The four parts are:

  • SAMHITAS (“collection”, “compilation”) – Form the first part of each of the four Vedas. A Samhita is a collection of hymns and mantras to invoke various deities, and of certain established rules of interpretation. 
  • BRAHMANAS – Instructions for priests, and rules for the rites and oblations as expressions of honour to the gods. They are the second of the four parts of each Veda containing inspirational stories, as well as deep philosophical discussions and details about Yagyas (Yagya is an ancient ritual of offering oblations into the fire).
  • ARANAKAS (from aranya= forest) "Forest debates" – The third part of each of the Vedas. These texts contain esoteric, mystical knowledge, mostly focused on the inner meaning and effect of the Vedic ceremonies.
  • UPANISHADS – Literally means, "To sit at the Master's feet and listen to His words or teachings." The Upanishads form the philosophical and spiritual essence of the Vedas and transmit the highest knowledge about God, the soul and the world, as well as about the importance of ceremonies and sacrifices. They are mostly written in the form of a conversation between a disciple and his teacher (questions and answers).

The Upanishads teach that in the whole Universe there is only one reality, and that is God. Everything that ever existed, exists and will exist in the Universe originates from Him, and disappears back into Him, in the eternal cycle of creation, maintenance and destruction. He is the sun, the moon and the stars, the planets, every living being, all living and non-living matter and every virtue, every vice, all the good and the bad, every thought, every feeling and every act. He is time and space and all that exists in the Universe. He is eternal within the Universe and simultaneously He transcends it. He is unformed, eternal, boundless and omnipotent. He is manifest and unmanifest. He is manifest in His creation and is unmanifest when all that is created disappears in Him. The highest and purest principle of God is His unmanifest existence, when the whole Universe disappears in Him, when the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets, all animate and inanimate ceases to exist, and time and space disappear. This unmanifest essence is the only existing reality.

The Upanishads contain one of the highest ideas about God and His relationship with human beings and the Universe. Rightly they are given the highest place among the great religious philosophies of the world.

The great philosopher Schopenhauer said: "In the whole world, there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. They were my comfort in life and will be my consolation in death."

There are 108 most widely known Upanishads (eg. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, Kena Upanishad, Iso Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Svetasvatara Upanishads, Mandukya Upanishad). Each of these major Upanishads is connected to one of the four Veda Samhitas. The idea of​ the one, unformed and infinite God, as the true reality of the Universe, inseparable, and at the same time beyond everything, is based on the philosophical discussions from the Upanishads. The teachings about the immortal soul, the law of karma, the consequences of actions and the law of evolution of living beings through the process of rebirth according to their own karma or actions, are based on the Upanishads.

Based on the subject, the Vedas can be divided into two parts:

  • GYANA-KANDA includes topics related to GYANA (knowledge) and VIGYANA (science): This section covers Aranyakasand Upanishads – the theoretical and philosophical records that convey universal spiritual knowledge not limited to any particular divine concept or a particular deity. They also contain knowledge of spiritual principles and cosmic laws and of the impact and the ruling of the Tattvas – the cosmic elements and principles.
  • KARMA-KANDA covers topics related to KARMAS (deeds) and UPASANAS (oblations): This part focuses on the practice. It includes hymns, prayers and mantras, Samhitasand Brahmanas, customs and ceremonies. Karma Kanda elaborates the performance of ANUSTANA (a specific sequence of exercises and techniques) and TAPASYA (effort to achieve self-realization, sometimes involving solitude, asceticism. It is derived from the word root tap which depending on context means "heat").

Each of the Vedas is characterised by some MAHA-VAKYA (maha= great, vakya= word). MAHA-VAKYA is there to convey knowledge about the union of JIVA (the Individual Self) and BRAHMAN (the Highest Self):

  1. PRAJNANAM BRAHMA (Rig-Veda or Aitareya Upanishad)
    "BRAHMANIS PURE CONSCIOUSNESS"
    Here consciousness refers to the perfect, pure divine light, the unity with God.
  2. TAT TVAM ASI (Sama-Veda or Chandogya-Upanishad)
    "DIVINE PRINCIPLE (Tattva) IS THE TRUTH, AND THOU ARE THAT (Brahman)”
    You are not the body, but the Atma.
  3. AHAM BRAHMASMI (Yajur Veda or Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad)
    "I AM BRAHMAN"
    This means Jivatma (the Individual Self) and Paramatma (the Universal Self) are one.
  4. AYAM ATMABRAHMA (Atharva Veda or Mandukya Upanishad)
    “THIS ATMA IS BRAHMAN”
    The light of the Soul itself is God or Brahman.

Vedangas – Six Limbs of the Vedas

Subsequently added to the Vedas are six VEDANGAS – "The limbs of the Vedas" (auxillary texts, interpretations):

  1. NIRUKTA (etymology) explanations of words, written by Yaskacharya.
  2. VYAKARANA (grammar)
  3. JYOTISH (astrology, vediccalendar)
  4. CHANDAS (metrics) chants, verses
  5. SHIKSHA (phonetics) language teaching, rules on accents (there are 60 shikshas, the most important originating from Paniniand Manduki).
  6. KALPA: ceremonies, rules of ceremonial

Kalpasutras

Kalpa, as one of the six disciplines or ancillary Vedic sciences, is written (as all of the Vedangas) in the form of sutras. A Sutra is both the presentation style, and the text as a whole. Literally it means a thread or yarn. In this case it refers to a short rule or saying. When these two meanings are combined together, “Sutra” means the threading and weaving of short rules. Kalpasutras are rules about ceremonies.

There are three types of kalpasutras:

Srauta sutras: Describe the solemn ceremonies and the fire sacrifices performed by the priests with their assistants, and are adapted either from the Srutis or the Vedas.

Grihya sutras: (Griha= house) Deals with the ceremonies performed by the householders, i.e. people from secular life.

Dharmasutras: Contain rules and commandments for the social, political, public and religious life. The word Dharma literally means "something that unites". It also has other meanings, and one is faith. From these texts Indian law and ethics were subsequently developed (Dharmasastra).

Dharmashastras

As the number of inhabitants and the associated complexity of social, economic and political problems rose, the practice of the oral transmission of ceremonies disappeared. Gradually Srauta Sutras and Grihya Sutras went into oblivion. Dharmasutras that contain social, economic, political and religious rules have been retained and continue to be utilised.

Public and private customs, and the way they were practised, were subject to many changes that ultimately resulted in new records being written on these issues. They were written in verse and called Dharmashastras. Some of them are only the rearranged Dharmasutras, reflecting the requirements of that period in time and the increase in population.

The most important and oldest Dharmashastrais Manavadharmashastraor Manusmrti (Code of Manu).

The Vedas are also the treasure of the oldest Aryan culture. They give an overview of its social system and the way of life, its customs, art and science.

Astronomy and Astrology

They originate from activities relating to the observation of the stars and the movement of the planets, and are contained in the Vedas due to their importance in determining the exact time for the performance of ceremonies.

Geometry

Its primary purpose was to describe shapes and give a more detailed measurement of lines and characters that had to be respected on the sacrificial altar.

Grammar

It results from the need of determining the rules of pronunciation of the recitations, ceremonial hymns and mantras.

Puranas

The word Purana literally means "old, ancient". They are instructive stories, tales about gods and heroes whose aim is to teach people aboutmoral life. They also are attributed to Maharishi Vedvyasa. There are many Puranas, the most important are the Mahapuranas. The most famous Mahapurana is the Bhagavata which speaks about 10 incarnations (avatars) of Lord Vishnu, especially that of Lord Krishna. Together with the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (the two most important epics in Hinduism), the Puranas constitute what is sometimes regarded as the fifth Veda.

Smriti

Smriti means remembrance. It is knowledge that has been transmitted through the ages (traditions) and then later recorded by rishis and brahmins according to the memory of the teachings they heard from their masters (as distinct from Srutis – knowledge directly revealed from God through Dev Vani). The term Smriti also refers to religious scriptures and books of law containing this transmitted knowledge.

Smriti, like all other scriptures of Hindu philosophy, acknowledge the authority of the Vedas and the Upanishads, and relate to the teaching about God and the creation of the Universe. They treat the practical use of these highly philosophical ideas in daily life – in its social, political, economic and religious aspects. They include the rituals described in the Vedas, adjusted to changes in social context. These scriptures mirror the daily life of a post-Vedic Hindus from birth to death. They describe the social circumstances in which they lived and the close connection between daily life and faith. They connect daily religious rituals with daily duties and activities from the moment of awakening to bedtime.

There are 80 Smritis, of which Manusmrti or Manavadharmasastra (Code of Manu) is considered to be the oldest and most important. Despite some small differences, the essence of all the Smritis is the same and can be briefly characterised as follows:

  • Believe in the Vedas as the word of God.
  • Read and study them and act in accordance with the rules contained therein, and in accordance with the existing social order.
  • Live according to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures in every moment of your life.
  • Think of God when you get up in the morning, in everything you do, every moment of the day and when you go to bed at night. Think of him when you eat and drink, while performing the daily duties you have in society – as a priest, judge, solicitor, minister, regent, soldier, artist, businessman, etc. Think of Him in happiness and distress, at birth and at death and at every religious ceremony in your home.
  • Live with your neighbours, friends and relatives according to the highest moral and religious precepts. Perform the sacrifices that are prescribed for your social position.
  • Do not marry out of passion, but for the wellbeing of society and family. Consider marriage as a sacrament and a sacred institution, and not as a mere contract.
  • Fulfil your obligations towards the king and your country, neighbours, superiors and subordinates.
  • Reach salvation by realising the highest ethical ideals of the Holy Scriptures in your daily life.

SMRITIS are divided into two groups:

  1. Prose sayings and discourses called KALPASUTRAS,
  2. Sayings in verses called DHARMASHASTRAS.

Bhagavad Gita

The longing to know God is rooted deeply in the human soul. From the need to satisfy this deep request for spiritual knowledge, many religions and teachings have developed since the beginning of mankind. They are handed down for generations in the form of certain rules of life, which, together with the religious rites and prayers, are intended to lead us to the realisation of God.

By recognising weak points in the existing religious books, records, thoughts and dogmas created by people, the Bhagavad Gita based its religious postulates not only on divine origin, but also on logic, reason, ethics, moral and philosophical teachings about life and work.

The Bhagavad Gita clarifies to us that there are no shortcuts or favouritism on the path towards God-realisation, and that the highest goal can only be achieved by proper and relentless striving. I.e. By developing and acting according to the reason and power of discrimination (Viveka), and through unwavering faith and devotion.

Each teaching and prayer must be first understood through our mind and wisdom, and then taken into our heart and utilised on our spiritual path.

All Hindu philosophical schools or systems respect the authority of the Vedas or the Vedic teaching, recognising the immortality of the soul, the laws of karma and the process of rebirth and evolution through many lives until the final self-realisation. Some of them believe in the limitless potential of the human soul and the ability to achieve supernatural powers such as clairvoyance, etc. However, the use of such powers is not to be seen with favour unless it serves for the overall happiness of mankind.

Other holy scriptures:

  • 80 Smritis,
  • 18 Puranas.

According to the classical teaching there are 14 Vidyas(scriptures):

  • 4 Vedas,
  • 6 Vedangas,
  • Puranas,
  • Mimansa Sastras,
  • Njaja Sastra,
  • Dharmasutras (law)

Vedas and Upanishads

Gayatri Mantra

 Om bhur bhuvah svaha tat savitur varenyam
bargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yonah prachodayat

OM let us mediate on the blessed Divine Light, worthy of honor, that pervades our hearts. May it illuminate all our possibilities, guide our intellect and enlighten our understanding.

The Vedas

The Vedas are the oldest spiritual scriptures of the world. Veda literally means “knowledge”, specifically the highest knowledge about God and man. Vedas are the spiritual truth, said to have been a direct revelation from God through Dev Vani - the voice of God to Rishis (self-realised saints) during their meditations. This truth was then passed on orally through an unbroken chain of a Master-Disciple relationship. Hence the Vedas are also called Shruti, which means “das Gehörte” – “the things heard”. There are 4 Vedas: Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva Veda. The Rishis who received them, and then passed them on were:

Agni Rishi – Rig Veda, Vayu Rishi – Sama Veda,
Aditi Rishi – Yajur Veda, Angiras Rishi – Atharva Veda

The Vedas were transmitted orally all the way up to Maharishi Ved Vyasa who then wrote them down. Vedas are as old as the Universe, and are said to have been on Earth for at least 20,000 years. Rig-Veda and Sama-Veda were written in verse, Yajur-Veda in prose, and the Atharva-Veda mainly in prose and partly in verse. The Vedas contain a total of more than 24,000 mantras. Rig-Veda, the oldest and most extensive, contains 10,000 mantras. The hymns of the Rig-, Yajur- and Sama-Veda are dedicated to various expressions of the Divine (deities and gods of nature) like gods of earth, fire, rain, etc., for receiving blessings of peace, happiness and prosperity. One part of the Vedas also consists of rules for interpreting Vedic ceremonies and philosophical discussions about God, the soul and the afterlife. Each of the four Vedas consists of four parts, which are called Veda-Samhita. Each Veda is characterized by a Mahavakya (maha – big, vakya – word) which transmits the essence of the teaching about the union of Jiva – the Self and Brahman – the Absolute, the Highest Self.

PRAJNANAM BRAHMA (Rig-Veda and Taittririya Upanishad)
Brahman is Pure Consciousness”

 TAT TVAM ASI (Sama-Veda and Chandogya-Upanishad)
“Thou are That” You are not the body, but the Atma.

 AHAM BRAHMASMI (Yajur Veda and Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad)
“I am Brahman”

AYAM ATMA (Atharva Veda and Mandukya Upanishad)
“I am Atma”

The four parts of each Veda

SAMHITA – A collection of hymns and mantras of each Veda
BRAHMANA – The second of the four parts of each Veda, brahmanas are rules for pandits, priests with instructions for rituals, sacrifices and yagyas addressed to deities. They contain very interesting and inspiring stories, deep philosophical discussions and details about Yagyas.
ARANAKAS - (derived from the word aranya = forest) "Forest debates". Aranyakas are the third part of each of the Vedas. These texts contain esoteric, mystical knowledge, mostly focused on the inner meaning and effect of the Vedic ceremonies.
UPANISHADS - Upanishad literally means "To sit at the Master's feet and listen to His words or teachings." The Upanishads form the philosophical and spiritual essence of the Vedas and transmit the highest knowledge about God, the soul and the world, as well as about the importance of ceremonies and sacrifices. They are mostly written in the form of a conversation between a disciple and his teacher (questions and answers).

The Upanishads

The Upanishads teach that in the whole Universe there is only one reality, and that is God. Everything that ever existed, exists and will exist in the Universe originates from Him, and disappears back into Him, in the eternal cycle of creation, maintenance and destruction. He is the sun, the moon and the stars, the planets, every living being, all living and non-living matter and every virtue, every vice, all the good and the bad, every thought, every feeling and every act. He is time and space and all that exists in the Universe. . He is eternal within the Universe and simultaneously He transcends it. He is unformed, eternal, boundless and omnipotent. He is saguna (manifest) and nirguna (unmanifest). He is manifest in His creation and is unmanifest when all that is created disappears in Him. The highest and purest principle of God is His unmanifest existence, when the whole Universe disappears in Him, when the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets, all animate and inanimate ceases to exist, and time and space disappear. This unmanifest essence is the only existing reality. The Upanishads contain one of the highest ideas about God and His relationship with human beings and the Universe. Rightly they are given the highest place among the great religious philosophies of the world. The great philosopher Schopenhauer said: "In the whole world, there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads. They were my comfort in life and will be my consolation in death."

There are 108 most widely known Upanishads. Some of the most famous are Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, Kena Upanishad, Iso Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Svetasvatara Upanishad and Mandukya Upanishad. Each of these major Upanishads is connected to one of the four Veda Samhitas. The idea ofthe one, unformed and infinite God, as the true reality of the Universe, inseparable, and at the same time beyond everything, is based on the philosophical discussions from the Upanishads. The teachings about the immortal soul, the law of karma, the consequences of actions and the law of evolution of living beings through the process of rebirth according to their own karma or actions, are based on the Upanishads.

 

Yagya - the essence of the Vedic culture

The yagya comes from the Sanskrit word yagya which means sacrifice, worship. Sacrifice and surrender through service, both internal and external is one of the basic principles of Hinduism. One of the forms of this principle is yagya. The yagya involves ritual offerings of oblations into the fire like grains, flowers, ghee - clarified butter, milk, spices, wood ... Yagya is performed by pandits who prepare the space, perform the oblations and chant mantras, ie. the Vedic hymns. In order for yagya to be performed properly it is necessary to follow the detailed and precise instructions from the Vedas, which pundits are learning from early childhood and who dedicate their whole life to learning Vedas and performing Vedic ceremonies. There are two basic types of yagya - srauta performed by pandits and grihya ceremony performed by the householder, along with his wife. Srauta ceremonies are more detailed, richer and more complicated, and their goals extend far beyond the well-being of a household. Srauta yagya includes the participation of four pandits. They are known as hotr, adhvaryu, udgatr and brahmin, each of which performs a strictly defined part of the ceremony: one prepares a place for the rite according to the instructions of the Vedic science about space - Vastu Shastra, the second sings mantras, the third performs the ritual, and the fourth oversees the correctness of the above and corrects errors with special mantras. The performance of the yagya itself consists of four main parts, which are present in each ceremony. In the first part a fireplace is created (depicted, built and richly decorated), which is also a mandala that at this stage does not contain life or pran-shakti. In the second part this character is filled with life energy, hence this level is called prana pratistha. The third part is called upacar, and that is the part during which the evoked energy intensifies and increases. The fourth part is called parayan or prasthan - the energy release, in which yagya culminates.