subtleness of indian ethos..cont....

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    10. Why do we regard trees and plants as sacred?
    >From ancient times, Indians have worshipped plants and trees
    and regarded all flora and fauna as sacred. This is not an old
    fashioned or uncivilized practice. It reveals the sensitivity,
    foresight and refinement of Indian culture. While modern man
    often works to "conquer" Mother Nature, ancient Indian
    "worshipped" her.
    Why do we regard plants and trees as sacred?
    The Lord the life in us, pervades all living beings, be they
    plants or animals Hence, they are all regarded as sacred. Human
    life on earth depends on plants and trees. They give us the
    vital factors that make life possible on earth: food, oxygen,
    clothing, shelter, medicines etc. They lend beauty to our
    surroundings. They serve man without expectation and sacrifice
    themselves to sustain us. They epitomize sacrifice if a stone
    is thrown on a fruit-laden tree; the tree in turn gives fruit!
    In fact, the flora and fauna owned the earth before man
    appeared on it Presently, the world is seriously threatened by
    the destruction of forestlands and the extinction of many
    species of vegetation due to man's callous attitude toward
    them. We protect only what we value Hence in India, we are
    taught to regard trees and plants as sacred Naturally, we will
    then protect them.
    Indian scriptures tell us to plant trees if, for any reason, we
    have to cut one. We are advised to use parts of trees and
    plants only as much as is needed for food, fuel, shelter etc.
    We are also urged to apologies to a plant or tree before
    cutting it to avoid incurring a specific sin named soona. In
    our childhood, we are told stories of the sacrifice and service
    done by plants and trees and about our duty to plant and
    nourish them. Certain trees and plants like tulasi, peepal
    etc., which have tremendous beneficial qualities, are
    worshipped till today.
    It is believed that divine beings manifest as trees and plants,
    and many people worship them to fulfill their desires or to
    please the Lord.
    11. Why do we fast?
    Most devout Indians fast regularly or on special occasions like
    festivals. On such days they do not eat at all, eat once or
    make do with fruits or a special diet of simple food. Some
    undertake rigorous fasts when they do not even drink water the
    whole day! Fasting is done foe many reasons - to please the
    Lord, to discipline oneself and even to protest. Gandhiji
    fasted to protest against the British rule.
    1. Why do we fast?
    Is it to save food or to create an appetite to feast after the
    fast? Not really. Then why do we fast?
    Fasting in Sanskrit is called upavaasa. Upa means "near" +
    vaasa means "to stay". Upavaasa therefore means staying near
    (the Lord), meaning he attainment of close mental proximity
    with the Lord. Then what has upavaasa to do with food ?
    A lot of our time and energy is spent in procuring food items,
    preparing, cooking, eating and digesting food. Certain food
    types make our minds dull and agitated. Hence on certain days
    man decides to save time and conserve his energy by eating
    either simple, light food or totally abstaining from eating so
    that his mind becomes alert and pure. The mind, otherwise
    pre-occupied by the thought of food, now entertains noble
    thoughts and stays with the lord. Since it is a self-imposed
    form of discipline it is usually adhered to with joy.
    Also every system needs a break and an overhaul to work at its
    best. Rest and a change of diet during fasting is very good for
    the digestive system and the entire body.
    The more you indulge the senses, the more they make their
    demands. Fasting helps us to cultivate control over our senses,
    sublimate our desires and guide our minds to be poised and at
    Fasting should not make us weak, irritable or create an urge to
    indulge later. This happens when there is no noble goal behind
    fasting. Some fast, rather they diet, merely to reduce weight.
    Others fast as a vow to please the Lord or to fulfill their
    desires, some to develop will power, control the senses, some
    as a form of austerity and so on. The Bhagavad Geeta urges us
    to eat appropriately - neither too less nor too much - yukta -
    aahaara and to eat simple, pure and healthy food (a saatvik
    diet) even when not fasting.
    12. Why do we ring the bell in a temple ?
    In most temples there are one or more bells hung from the top,
    near the entrance. The devotee rings the bell as soon as he
    enters, thereafter proceeding for darshan of the Lord and
    prayers. Children love jumping up or being carried high in
    order to reach the bell.
    1. Why do we ring the bell ?
    Is it to wake up the Lord ? But the Lord never sleeps. Is it to
    let the Lord know we have come? He does not need to be told, as
    He is all - knowing. Is it a form of seeking permission to
    enter His precinct? It is a homecoming and therefore entry
    needs no permission. The Lord welcomes us at all times. These
    why do we ring the bell ?
    The ringing of the bell produces what is regarded as an
    auspicious sound. It produces the sound Om, the universal name
    of the Lord. There should be auspiciousness within and without,
    to gain the vision of the Lord who is all-auspiciousness.
    Even while doing the ritualistic aarati, we ring the bell It is
    sometimes accompanied by the auspicious sounds of the conch and
    other musical instruments. An added significance of ringing
    bell, conch and other instruments is that they help drowned any
    inauspicious or irrelevant noises and comments that might
    disturb or distract the worshippers in their devotional ardor,
    concentration and inner peace.
    As we start the daily ritualistic worship (pooja) we ring the
    bell, chanting :
    Aagamaarthamtu devaanaam
    Gamanaarthamtu rakshasaam
    Kurve ghantaaravam tatra
    Devataahvaahna lakshanam
    I ring this bell indicating
    The invocation of divinity,
    So that virtuous and noble forces
    Enter (my home and heart);
    And the demonic and evil forces
    >From within and without, depart.
    13. Why do we worship the kalasha ?
    First of all what is a kalasha? A brass, mud or copper pot is
    filled with water. Mango leaves are placed in the mouth of the
    pot and a coconut is placed over it. A red or white thread is
    tied around its neck or sometimes all around it in an intricate
    diamond-shaped pattern. The pot may be decorated with designs.
    Such a pot is known as a kalasha When the pot is filled with
    water or rice, it is known as purnakumbha representing the
    inert body which when filled with the divine life force gains
    the power to do all the wonderful things that makes life what
    it is.
    A kalasha is placed with due rituals on all-important occasions
    like the traditional house warming (grhapravesa), wedding,
    daily worship etc. It is placed near the entrance as a sign of
    welcome. It is also used in a traditional manner while
    receiving holy personages.
    1. Why do we worship the kalasha ?
    Before the creation came into being, Lord Vishnu was reclining
    on His snake-bed in the milky ocean From His navel emerged a
    lotus from which appeared Lord Brahma, the Creator, who
    thereafter created this world. The water in the kalasha
    symbolizes the primordial water from which the entire creation
    emerged It is the giver of life to all and has the potential of
    creating innumerable names and forms, the inert objects and the
    sentient beings and all that is auspicious in the world from
    the energy behind the universe. The leaves and coconut
    represent creation. The thread represents the love that "binds"
    all in creation. The kalasha is therefore considered auspicious
    and worshipped.
    The waters from all the holy rivers, the knowledge of all the
    Vedas and the blessings of all the deities are invoked in the
    kalasha and its water is thereafter used for all the rituals,
    including the abhisheka, The consecration (kumbhaabhisheka) of
    a temple is done in a grand manner with elaborate rituals
    including the pouring of one or more kalashas of holy water on
    the top of the temple.
    When the asuras and the devas churned the milky ocean, the Lord
    appeared bearing the post of nectar, which blessed one with
    everlasting life. Thus the kalasha also symbolizes immortality.

    Men of wisdom are full and complete as they identify with the
    infinite Truth (poornatvam) They brim with joy and love and
    represent all that is auspicious. We greet them with a
    purnakumbha ("full pot") acknowledging their greatness and as a
    sign of respectful and reverential welcome, with a "full
    14. Why do we worship tulasi ?
    Either in the front, back or central courtyard of most Indian
    homes there is a tulasi-matham-an altar bearing a tulasi plant.
    In the present day apartments too, many maintain a potted
    tulasi plant. The lady of the house lights a lamp, waters the
    plant, worships and circumambulates it. The stem, leaves, seeds
    and even the soil, which provides it a base, are considered
    holy. A tulasi leaf is always placed in the food offered to the
    Lord It is also offered to the Lord during poojas, especially
    to Lord Vishnu and His incarnations.
    1. Why do we worship the tulasi ?
    In Sanskrit, tulanaa naasti athaiva tulasi - that which is
    incomparable (in its qualities) is the tulasi. For Indians it
    is one of the most sacred plants. In fact it is known to be the
    only thing used in worship, which once used, can be washed and
    reused in pooja as it is regarded so self-purifying.
    As one story goes, Tulasi was the devoted wife of Shankhachuda,
    a celestial being. She believed that Lord Krishna tricked her
    into sinning. So she cursed him to become a stone
    (shaaligraama). Seeing her devotion and adherence to
    righteousness, the Lord blessed her saying that she would
    become the worshipped her saying that she would become the
    worshipped plant, tulasi that would adorn His head. Also that
    all offerings would be incomplete without the tulasi leaf -
    hence the worship of tulasi.
    She also symbolizes Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord
    Vishnu. Those who wish to be righteous and have a happy family
    life worship the tulasi. Tulasi is married to the Lord with all
    pomp and show as in any wedding. This is because according to
    another legend, the Lord blessed her to be His consort.
    Satyabhama once weighed Lord Krishna against all her legendary
    wealth. The scales did not balance till a single tulasi leaf
    was placed along with the wealth on the scale by Rukmini with
    devotion. Thus the tulasi played the vital role of
    demonstrating to the world that even a small object offered
    with devotion more to the Lord than all the wealth in the
    world. The tulasi leaf has great medicinal value and is used to
    cure various ailments, including the common cold.
    Yanmule sarvatirthaani
    Yannagre sarvadevataa
    Yanmadhye sarvavedaascha
    Tulasi taam namaamyaham
    I bow to the tulasi, at whose base are all the holy places, at
    whose top reside all the deities and in whose middle are all
    the Vedas.
    Chapter 4
    This chapter tells you Why do we consider the lotus as special,
    blow the conch, sat shaanti thrice, offer a coconut, chant Om,
    do aarati.
    15. Why do we consider the lotus as special ?
    The lotus is India's national flower and rightly so. Not long
    ago, the lakes and ponds of India were full of many hued
    1. Why do we consider the lotus special ?
    The lotus is the symbol of truth, auspiciousness and beauty
    (satyam, shivam, sundaram). The Lord is also that nature and
    therefore, His various aspects are compared to a lotus (i.e.
    lotus-eyes, lotus feet, lotus hands, the lotus of the heart
    etc.). Our scriptures and ancient literature extol the beauty
    of the lotus. Art and architecture also portray the lotus in
    various decorative motifs and paintings. Many people have names
    of or related to the lotus : Padma, Pankaja, kamal, Kamala,
    Kamalakshi etc. The Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, sits on a lotus
    and carries one in her hand. The lotus blooms with the rising
    sun and closes at night. Similarly, our minds open up and
    expand with the light of knowledge. The lotus grows even in
    slushy areas. It remains beautiful and untainted despite its
    surroundings, reminding us that we too can and should strive to
    remain pure and beautiful within, under all circumstances. The
    lotus leaf never gets wet even thought it is always in water.
    It symbolises the man of wisdom (gnaani) who remains ever
    joyous, unaffected by the world of sorrow and change. This is
    revealed in a shloka from the Bhagavad Geeta:
    Brahmanyaadhaaya karmaani
    Sangam tyaktvaa karoti yaha
    Lipyate na sa paapena
    Padma patram ivaambhasaa
    He who does actions, offering them to Brahman (the Supreme),
    abandoning attachment, is not tainted by sin, just as a lotus
    leaf remains unaffected by the water on it. From this, we learn
    that what is natural to the man of wisdom becomes a discipline
    to be practiced by all saadhakas or spiritual seekers and
    Our bodies have certain energy certain described in the Yoga
    Shaastras as chakras. Each one is associated with lotus that
    have a certain number of petals, For example, the Sahasra
    chakra at the top of the head, which opens when the yogi
    attains Godhood or Realisation, is represented by a lotus with
    a thousand petals, Also the lotus posture (padmaasana) is
    recommended when one sits for meditation.
    A lotus emerged from the navel of lord Vishnu Lord Brahma
    originated from it to create the world. Hence, the lotus
    symbolizes the link between the creator and the supreme Cause.
    It also symbolizes Brahmaloka, he abode of Lord Brahma.
    The auspicious sign of the swastika is said to have evolved
    from the lotus. From the above, we can well appreciate why the
    lotus is India's national flower and so special to Indians.
    16. Why do we blow the conch ?
    In temples or at homes, the conch is blown once or several
    times before ritualistic worship (pooja). It is sometimes blown
    whilst doing aarati or to mark an auspicious occasion. It is
    blown before a battle starts or to announce the victory of an
    army. It is also placed in the altar and worshipped.
    When the conch is blown, the primordial sound of Om emanates.
    Om is an auspicious sound that was chanted by the Lord before
    creating the world. It represents the world and the Truth
    behind it.
    As the story goes, the demon Shankhaasura defeated the devas,
    stole the Vedas and went to the bottom of the ocean. The devas
    appealed to Lord Vishnu for help. He incarnated as Matsya
    Avataara the "fish incarnation" and killed Shankhaasura. The
    Lord blew the conch-shaped bone of his ear and head. The Om
    sound emanated, from which emerged the Vedas. All knowledge
    enshrined in the Vedas is an elaboration of Om. The conch
    therefore is known as Shankha after Shankhaasura. The conch
    blown by the Lord is called Paanchajanya. He carries it at all
    times in one of His four hands. It represents dharma or
    righteousness that is one of the four goals (purushaarthas) of
    life. The sound of the conch is thus also the victory call of
    good over evil. If we place a conch close to our ears, we hear
    the sound of the waves of the ocean.
    Another well-known purpose of blowing the conch and other
    instruments, known traditionally to produce auspicious sounds
    is to drown or mask negative comments or noise that may disturb
    or upset the atmosphere or the minds of worshippers.
    Ancient India lived in her villages. Each village was presided
    over by a primary temple and several smaller ones. During the
    aarati performed after all-important poojas and on sacred
    occasions, the conch used to be blown. Since village were
    generally small, the sound of the conch would be heard all over
    the village. People who could not make it to the temple were
    reminded to stop whatever they were doing, at least for a few
    seconds, and mentally bow to the Lord. The conch sound served
    to briefly elevate people's minds to a prayerful attitude even
    in the middle of their busy daily routine.
    The conch is placed at the altar in temples and homes next to
    the Lord as a symbol of Naada Brahma (Turth), the Vedas, Om,
    dharma, victory and auspiciousness. It is often used to offer
    devotees thirtha (sanctified water) to raise their minds to the
    highest Truth.
    It is worshipped with the following verse.
    Twam puraa saagarot pannaha
    Vishnunaa vidhrutahakare
    Devaischa poojitha sarvaihi
    Paanchajanya namostu te
    Salutations to Paanchajanya,
    The conch born of the ocean,
    Held in the hand of Lord Vishnu
    And worshipped by all the devaas.
    17. Why do we say shaanti thrice ?
    Shaanti, meaning "peace", is a natural state of being.
    Disturbances are created either by others or us. For example,
    peace already exists in a place until someone makes noise.
    Therefore, peace underlies all our agitations. When agitations
    end, peace is naturally experienced since it was already there.
    Where there is peace, there is happiness. Therefore, every one
    without exception desires peace in his/her life. However, peace
    within or without seems very hard to attain because it is
    covered by our own agitations. A rare few manage to remain
    peaceful within even in the midst of external agitation and
    troubles. To invoke peace, we chant prayers. By chanting
    prayers, troubles end and peace is experienced internally,
    irrespective of the external disturbances. All such prayers end
    by chanting shaanti thrice.
    1. Why do we say shaanti thrice ?
    It is believed that trivaram satyam - that which is said thrice
    comes true. For emphasizing a point we repeat a thing thrice.
    In the court of law also, one who takes the witness stand says,
    "I shall speak the truth the whole truth and nothing but the
    truth". We chant shaanti thrice to emphasise our intense desire
    for peace.
    All obstacles, problems and sorrows originate from three sources.
    1. Aadhidaivika: The unseen divine forces over which we
    have little or no control like earthquakes, floods, volcanic
    eruptions etc.
    2. Aadhibhautika: The known factors around us like
    accidents, human contacts, pollution, crime etc.
    3. Aadhyaatmika: Problems of our bodies and minds like
    diseases, anger, frustrations etc.
    We sincerely pray to the lord that at least while we undertake
    special tasks or even in our daily lives, there are no problems
    or that, problems are minimized from the three sources written
    about above. May peace alone prevail. Hence shaanti is chanted
    It is chanted aloud the first time, addressing the unseen
    forces. It is chanted softer the second time, directed to our
    immediate surroundings and those around, and softest the last
    time as it is addressed to oneself.
    18. Why do we offer a coconut ?
    In India one of the most common offerings in a temple is a
    coconut. It is also offered on occasions like weddings,
    festivals, the use of a new vehicle, bridge, house etc. A pot (
    kalasha) full of water, adorned with mango leaves and a coconut
    on top is worshipped on important occasions and used to receive
    revered guests.
    It is offered in the sacrificial fire whilst performing homa.
    The coconut is broken and placed before the Lord. It is later
    distributed as prasaada. It is offered to please the Lord or to
    fulfill our desires.
    There was a time when animal sacrifice (bali) was practiced,
    symbolizing the offering of our animalistic tendencies to the
    Lord. Slowly this practice faded and the coconut was offered
    instead. The fiber covering of the dried coconut is removed
    except for a tuft on the top. The marks on the coconut make it
    look like the head of a human being. The coconut is broken,
    symbolizing the breaking of the ego. The juice within
    representing the inner tendencies (vaasanas) is offered along
    with the white kernel - the mind, to the lord A mind thus
    purified by the touch of the Lord is used as prasaada ( a holy
    In the traditional abhishekha ritual done in all temples and
    many homes, several materials are poured over the deity like
    milk, curd, honey, tender coconut water, sandal paste, holy ash
    etc. Each material has a specific significance of bestowing
    certain benefits on worshippers. Tender coconut water is used
    in abhisheka rituals it is believed to bestow spiritual growth
    on the seeker.
    The coconut also symbolizes selfless service. Every part of the
    tree - the trunk, leaves, fruit, coir etc. is used in
    innumerable ways like thatches, mats, tasty dishes, oil, soap
    etc. It takes in even salty water from the earth and converts
    it into sweet nutritive water that is especially beneficial to
    sick people. It is used in the preparation of many ayurvedic
    medicines and in other alternative medicinal systems.
    The marks on the coconut are even thought to represent the
    three-eyed Lord Shiva and therefore it is considered to be a
    means to fulfill our desires. In certain rituals a coconut is
    placed on a kalasha, decorated, garlanded and worshipped as
    symbolic of Lord Shiva and of the man of realization (gnaani).
    19. Why do we chant Om ?
    Om is one of the most chanted sound symbols in India. It has a
    profound effect on the body and mind of the one who chants and
    also on the surroundings. Most mantras and Vedic prayers start
    with Om. All auspicious actions begin with Om. It is even used
    as a greeting - Om, Hari Om etc. It is repeated as a mantra or
    meditated upon. Its form is worshipped, contemplated upon or
    used as an auspicious sign.
    1. Why do we chant Om ?
    Om is the universal name of the Lord. It is made up of the
    letters A (phonetically as in "around"), U (phonetically as in
    "put") and M (phonetically as in "mum"). The sound emerging
    from the vocal chords starts from the base of the throat as "A"
    With the coming together of the lips, "U" is formed and when
    the lips are closed, all sound ends in "M". The three letters
    symbolize the three states (waking, dream and deep sleep), the
    three deities (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), the three Vedas (Rig,
    Yajur and Sama) the three worlds (Bhub, Bhwah, Suvah) etc. The
    Lord is all these and beyond. The formless, attribute less lord
    (Brahman) is represented by the silence between two Om chants.
    Om is also called pranava that means, "that (symbol or sound)
    by which the Lord is praised". The entire essence of the Vedas
    is enshrined in the word Om.
    It is said that the Lord stared creating the world after
    chanting Om and atha. Hence its sound is considered to create
    an auspicious beginning for any task that we undertake.
    The Om chant should have the resounding sound of a bell
    (aaooommm). It fills the mind with peace, makes it focussed and
    replete with subtle sound, People meditate on its meaning and
    attain realization.
    Om is written in different ways in different places. The most
    common form ( Om ) symbolizes Lord Ganesha. The upper curve is
    the head; the lower large one, the stomach; the side one, the
    trunk; and the semi-circular mark with the dot, the sweetmeat
    ball (modaka) in Lord Ganesha's hand.
    Thus Om symbolizes everything - the means and the goal of life,
    the world and the Truth behind it, the material and the Sacred,
    all forms and the Formless.
    20. Why do we do aarati ?
    Towards the end of every ritualistic worship (pooja or bhajan)
    of the Lord or to welcome an honored guest or saint, we perform
    the aarati. This is always accompanied by the ringing of the
    bell and sometimes by singing, playing of musical instruments
    and clapping.
    It is one of the sixteen steps ( shodasha upachaara ) of the
    pooja ritual. It is referred to as the auspicious light (
    mangala niraajanam ). Holding the lighted lamp in the right
    hand, we wave the flame in a clockwise circling movement to
    light the entire form of the Lord. Each part is revealed
    individually and also the entire form of the Lord. As the light
    is waved we either do mental or loud chanting of prayers or
    simply behold the beautiful form of the Lord, illumined by the
    lamp. We experience an added intensity in our prayers and the
    Lord's seems to manifest a special beauty at that time. A the
    end of the aarati we place our hands over the flame and then
    gently touch our eyes and the top of the head.
    We have seen and participated in this ritual from our
    childhood. Let us find out why we do the aarati ?
    Having worshipped the Lord with love - performing abhisheka,
    decorating the image and offering fruits and delicacies, we see
    the beauty of the Lord in all His glory. Our minds are focussed
    on each limb of the Lord as it is lit up by the lamp. It is
    akin to silent open-eyed meditation on His beauty. The singing,
    clapping, ringing of the bell etc. denote the joy and
    auspiciousness, which accompanies the vision of the lord.
    Aarati is often performed with camphor. This holds a telling
    spiritual significance. Camphor when lit burns itself out
    completely without leaving a trace of it. Camphor represents
    our inherent tendencies ( vaasanas ). When lit by the fire of
    knowledge which illumines the Lord (Truth), our vaasanas
    thereafter burn themselves out completely, not leaving a trace
    of the ego which creates in us a sense of individuality that
    keeps us separate from the Lord. Also while camphor burns to
    reveal the glory of the Lord, it emits a pleasant perfume even
    while it sacrifices itself. In our spiritual progress, even as
    we serve the guru and society, we should willingly sacrifice
    ourselves and all we have, to spread the "perfume" of love to
    We often wait a long while to see the illumined Lord but when
    the aarati is actually performed, our eyes close automatically
    as if to look within. This is to signify that each of us is a
    temple of the Lord we hold the divinity within. Just as the
    priest reveals the form of the Lord clearly with the aarati
    flame, so too the guru clearly reveals to us the divinity
    within each one of us with the help of the "flame" of knowledge
    (or the light of spiritual knowledge). At the end of the
    aarati, we place our hands over the flame and then touch our
    eyes and the top of the head. It means - may the light that
    illumined the Lord light up my vision; may vision be divine and
    my thoughts noble and beautiful.
    The philosophical meaning of aarati extends further. The sun,
    moon, stars, lightning and fire are the natural sources of
    light. The Lord is the source of all these wondrous phenomena
    of the universe. It is due to Him alone that all else exist and
    shine. As we light up the Lord with flame of the aarati, we
    turn our attention to the very source of a light, which
    symbolizes knowledge and life.
    Also the sun is the presiding deity of the intellect; the moon,
    that of the mind; and fire, that of speech. The lord is the
    supreme Consciousness that illumines all of them. Without Him
    the intellect cannot think, nor can the mind feel nor the
    tongue speak. The Lord is beyond the mind, intellect and
    speech. How can these finite equipment illumine the infinite
    Lord? Therefore as we perform the aarati we chant:
    Na tatra suryo bhaati na chandra taarakam
    Nemaa vidyuto bhaanti kutoyamagnih
    Tameva bhaantam anubhaati sarvam
    Tasya bhaasa sarvam idam vibhaati
    He is there where the sun does not shine,
    Nor the moon, stars and lightning.
    Then what to talk of this small flame
    (in my hand) !
    Everything (in the universe) shines
    Only after the Lord,
    And by his light alone are we all illumined


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