Ganesh, the Elephant God or Lord of the Ganas, whose long-trunked and pot bellied statue can be seen in most Indian towns and even as far away as East Java, is India’s most popular god. Ganesh is worshipped before setting off on a journey or beginning a new business venture or during wedding negotiations. Ganesh is the god of practical wisdom and the remover of obstacles. He is the god of the scribes, who is invoked before writing books. He is also called Heramba, Lambakarna, meaning ‘long-eared’, Lambodara, meaning ‘hang-bellied’ and Gajanana, meaning ‘with the face of an elephant’. (‘Gaja’ means ‘elephant’, ‘anana’ means ‘face’). It was Ganesh who broke his tusk, using it to write the Mahabharata, as dictated by the sage, Vyas.
There are many legends about why Ganesh has an elephant’s head. The most probable explanation is that in the most ancient times of human history, worship of gods was associated with animals. Apollo, for instance, was a wolf, Athena an owl, Diana a bear and Zeus a bull. Ganesh was an elephant, just as Hanuman the monkey is now represented as a man with a monkey’s head. The people of antiquity in India and also in Africa regarded the elephant as the wisest of all the animals because the elephant lives the longest and has such a good memory. The elephant’s huge size demonstrates its noble birth. He is by right the king of the jungle. Just as the elephant pushes its way through the thickets and thorniest undergrowth, Ganesh makes a path for the traveller wherever he wants to go. Let us now look at one of the many myths related to the birth of Ganesh.
One day Parvati, the wife of God Shiva, wanted a guardian to prevent anyone from intruding on her while she was bathing. So she took her bath oil and other secret substances and formed the body of a man with a fat belly. Then she sprinkled over him her bath water, which came from the river Ganges, so that he came to life. When Shiva arrived, Ganesh her creation would not allow him to go near her. In his wrath Shiva cut off Ganesh’s head. However, when Parvati explained the situation to Shiva, he realised his mistake. Looking around quickly, he saw an elephant. He cut off its head and put it on Ganesh’s shoulder, in which form he can still be seen today. To help make amends, Shiva also granted Parvati the boon that Ganesh would be the first one worshipped on auspicious occasions.
Ganesh represents one who is wise. The decapitation of his head literally represents detachment from the old world and a new spiritual birth in which he realises he is a soul, a child of God, the Supreme. Being wise (symbolised by the elephant) he helps God in His task of purifying the world and doing world service and so he helps in removing the obstacles of Kaliyug. Hence, Ganesh is worshipped as remover of obstacles. Ganesh represents Brahma and the Brahmins of the Confluence Age who become God’s helpers in transforming the old world into heaven.
GANESH AND KARTIKEYA
This famous story from the Purana is about the two sons of Shiva, Ganesh (also known as Skanda) and Kartikeya (also known as Kumara).
Known as the god of wisdom and prudence, Ganesh, the destroyer of obstacles, is consulted at the beginning of every task. A good writer and learned in the scriptures, he wrote the Mahabharata from the dictation of the sage, Vyas. In the myth it is believed that Ganesh had two wives – Siddhhi, meaning ‘achievement’ and Viddhi meaning ‘right method’ – whom he won as a result of his unlimited and farsighted intellect.
Kartikeya is the other son of Shiva. Represented riding on a peacock and carrying a bow and arrow, he is said to be the chief war-god of the Hindu pantheon. In South India he is called Subramanya.
The following story tells a competition that took place between Ganesh and Kartikeya. They agreed that they would compete in a race around the world and whoever won would be eligible to marry two beautiful girls called Siddhi and Viddhi (one version of the story says that a mango was the prize rather than marrying two girls).
Kartikeya set off at great speed and after a long and weary journey, finally returned home. There he found his brother had already married the two girls. Instead of dashing off like Kartikeya, Ganesh had reverently circled around his father, Shiva, acting on his belief that, as Shiva was the Lord of the Three Worlds, Trilokinath, doing this reverential walk around him was the same as going around the physical world.
In his wisdom Ganesh had avoided the flurry and haste of Kartikeya by adopting the right method (viddhi) and achieving success (siddhi). Thus he was able to claim victory.
Ganga, the mighty Ganges River makes its way to the east coast by winding right through the middle of India, through the immense plain called Hindustan. In the beginning it is said that there were two rivers the Ganges and the Jamuna, gracefully curving down from the Himalayas, first flowing south, then turning eastwards. The twin rivers flowed ever closer to each other until they finally merged at Allahabad, the city of God.
Let us explore the myth behind the story and its spiritual significance. Ganga was the daughter of the mountain-god, Himavan, and the sister of Parvati. Whiles she was young, the gods kept her all to themselves for they considered her too precious and too beautiful to share with any human being.
Through prolonged asceticism Bhagirath, son of Dilipa, who was himself a son of the pious King Ansuman, King of Ayodhya, induced Brahma to grant him a boon. He wanted Brahma to allow the sacred river, Ganga, to descend on earth so that the 60,000 burnt brothers of King Ansuman might be brought back to life. Brahma advised him that this would only be possible if Shiva consented to let the Ganga flow through Shiva’s locks of hair on his head.
Again after a long period asceticism Bhagirath finally persuaded Shiva to agree. Roaring and foaming, the river raced down and would have completely flooded India, except for Shiva’s hair acting like a dense forest, arresting the river’s flow and forcing it to become the gentle river we know today.
If we consider these facts from a purely physical point of view, we understand that the river Ganges and other rivers originate from the melting of snow in the mountains and rain from the sky. Carrying down pure water from the higher regions, the rivers may carry the essence of medicinal herbs but they cannot purify souls. From a spiritual viewpoint, it is said that it is the Ganga of divine knowledge that purifies souls.
However, in respect of the Ganges, God is saying that it is not the water that purifies us, but knowledge. The Ganges is said to have come through Shiva (or some state Shankar’s) locks of hair because the head symbolises wisdom. So, the water emerging from the hair represents knowledge flowing from the intellect.
God has the knowledge of the beginning, the middle and the end of the cycle. The Supreme Soul’s sanskars of benevolence makes it so He gives this knowledge to everyone. Our intellect then retains this knowledge. So knowledge is seen as being in the intellect and staying in the centre of the forehead where the soul is. This is why it is said that the Ganges emerges from the head and that Bhagirath brought it.
The Ganges River has existed eternally in the physical world whereas Shiv Baba, the Ocean of Knowledge, exists in the incorporeal world. Brahma Baba became the instrument to bring the incorporeal into the physical, thus bringing benefit to the whole world.
‘Bhagirath’ means ‘lucky chariot’. The name of Brahma is also Bhagirath which means ‘bhagyashali’ (‘fortunate’ or ‘lucky’). ‘Bhagi signifies ‘lucky’. ‘Rath’ means ‘chariot’. So the lucky chariot brought the Ganges. On the path of bhakti it is said that the Ganges came down to earth but that its currents were far too strong. It is also said that, because of this, it could not come straight through Shiva’s locks of hair and so Brahma gave his pot, a kind of jar, to be used. If it had descended straight onto the earth, it would have cause flooding and would have destroyed everything. Thus, to bring it gradually so that everybody could benefit from it, it first had to come into the jar in Brahma’s hand. Brahma then walked ahead and showed the path.
Led by Brahma, the Ganges went to the people, to those who had become unconscious. Bhagirath led the way and the Ganges followed him along that path. The people who were unconscious became conscious again and became the grandsons of Sagar, where ‘sagar’ means ‘ocean’. In this spiritual life we are the grandchildren of the Ocean of Knowledge, the Ocean of Peace, the Ocean of Purity, the Ocean of Bliss and the Ocean of Love. We too had become unconscious, owing to anger and lust. Then knowledge was given and we were purified again.
This story is actually connected to the present time. God Shiva often tells us in the murlis that it is we who are the river Ganges flowing from the Ocean of Knowledge.
Gaumukh means ‘the mouth of the cow’. It is the name of a holy pilgrimage site in India, situated on Mount Abu in Rajasthan. The monument there consists of a stone, carved in the shape of a cow’s head with water flowing from its mouth into a small pool. The water symbolises the milk a cow gives to sustain life. On the path of bhakti (devotional worship) people believe that this flowing water comes from the Ganges to sustain and purify those who drink it.
Just as mother’s milk sustains the child, Gaumukh has great significance as a symbol of spiritual sustenance where the flowing water (milk) represents spiritual knowledge. It is Shiva who speaks true spiritual knowledge through Brahma. Just as Brahma is depicted as a father of the people, he also plays the role of a mother, nurturing and supporting the children. This is why the symbols of both the cow and the bull are used in relation to Brahma Baba.
As a mother, a cow sustains through milk. Spiritually, the nectar of knowledge flows through the mouth of Brahma Baba, just as the water flows from the cow’s mouth at Gaumukh. In this way Brahma Baba is like a mother because he sustains us with knowledge.
THE SHRIMAD BHAGAVAD GITA
The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita is considered the jewel of all the scriptures because it has the essence of all the scriptures in it. ‘Shri’ means ‘elevated’ and ‘mat’ (or ‘mad’) means ‘directions’. ‘Bhagavad’ means ‘Godly’. ‘Gita means song. Therefore ‘Shrimad Bhagavad Gita means ‘the elevated directions sung by God’ or ‘the celestial song of God’. The Gita is the only scripture in which God Himself comes and speaks. The phrase, ‘God speaks’, is only found in the Gita.
Historically, the Gita was written some time between the second century BC and the second century AD. The Bhagavad Gita is actually narrated in the bhishma parva (‘parva’, meaning ‘chapter’) in volume six of the epic poem, the Mahabharat, which tells the story of the great war of India, subsequently recorded by Vyas for the benefit of humanity. It comprises 701 verses in 18 chapters.
The scene is a battlefield just before the war at Kurukshetra near New Delhi, India, about 5000 years ago. People believe it records a dialogue that took place between Lord Krishna and Arjuna on the eve of the battle.
In those ancient times there was a king who had two sons, Dhritarashtra and Pandu. Dhritarashtra, the elder son, was born blind, so Pandu inherited the kingdom. Pandu had five sons, who were called the Pandavas and Dhritarashtra had one hundred sons, who were known as the Kauravas. After the death of King Pandu, the Pandavas became collectively the lawful rulers. Duryodhana (son of Dhritarashtra), however, was a very jealous person. He wanted the whole kingdom. It had been divided into two halves between the Pandavas and the Kauravas but Duryodhana was not satisfied with his share. He wanted the entire kingdom for himself.
After several unsuccessful attempts to kill off the Pandavas and take away their half, Duryodhana unlawfully took possession of the entire kingdom of the Pandavas and refused to give back even one hectare without a war. When all mediation by Lord Krishna and others failed, the great Mahabharat war began. The Pandavas were unwilling participants but they had only two choices: fight for their rights as a matter of duty or run away from the war and accept defeat in the name of peace and non-violence.
The Gita began with a question from the blind king, Dhritarashtra, asking the sage, Sanjay, what was happening, not only on the field of Kurukshetra (where his sons and the Pandavas were gathered to flight) but also on the field of dharma (meaning ‘virtue’ and ‘duty’). In reply, Sanjay, with his mystic power of vision, painted a verbal picture for Dhritarashtra of the battlefield, describing how both armies were arrayed against each other, blowing their conch horns to show their readiness to fight.
In the beginning Duryodhana briefed Drona, a teacher in the art of war, about both the armies. Then there was a description of the preparations for the battle. After that, Arjuna, the leading Pandava warrior wanted to observe all the other warriors drawn up for battle, and asked Krishna to place his chariot between the two armies.
The entire theme of the Bhagavad changes at this point and the most significant part of the Gita begins. Now we see a different Arjuna. The circumstances make him depressed and confused. When he saw his most revered guru, as well as his very dear friends, close relatives and many innocent warriors, running away from the battlefield for the sake of preserving peace and non-violence, he was filled with deep compassion and overcome by attachment for them.
Arjuna became nervous and said he did not want to fight, even for the sake of the three worlds. The possible consequence of the war horrified him. He was expected to do his duty but Arjuna’s confusion made him lose his equanimity. Finally he laid down his bow and arrows and sat at the back of the chariot.
The Gita quotes the words spoken by God, the Supreme Soul Himself. “When there is irreligiousness, that is, complete degradation of religion, especially in Bharat, I, the Supreme Soul, will descend and establish a new kingdom. I come to liberate all the sadhus and sannyasis and destroy the sinners. I come to establish one religion and for that I come in every age”.
Everything is accurate in this verse except the words, “in every age”, which have been misunderstood. In reality God comes only during the last age of every cycle, which is called the Confluence Age or Sangamyug, (literally, the Age of Truth).
Therefore, the Gita is the only scripture, which is spoken by God. In the Confluence Age, God Himself comes and gives the knowledge of the real Gita through the mouth of Brahma. When Arjuna was confused and said, “How can I fight? I don’t want to kill all these people. How can I do that to them? They are my kinsmen, my friends, my family members.” Then God told him, “Well, you have to do something,” and Arjuna said, “OK, if you want me to kill, you will have to give me the strength to do it.” So then God started teaching him yoga so that he could get the strength to kill. However, when he reached the middle of the battlefield he asked God again, “God, how can I remain stable? How can I concentrate? How can I control my mind?”
In reality, Arjuna had very strong distaste for the world and he did not want to rule. He felt like this because God had given him visions in which he had been shown much future bloodshed in which everyone would die. Arjuna said, “I don’t want to be instrument for this bloodshed. I want to renounce all actions and become a sannyasi.” On hearing this, God warned him, “Arjuna, don’t do that. If you do, you would be considered a coward. Don’t run away. Stay and fight. It is your duty to do so. It is your responsibility. You can’t run away from it.”
There are different chapters in the Gita about this same aspect, which are presented in different ways. One moment Arjuna was ready to fight but the next moment he wasn’t. Each time God spoke to Arjuna, encouraging him, he felt he was ready, but the next moment his courage deserted him, and so it continued in that way.
God, however, kept on encouraging Arjuna, “See, you are a great warrior. I can see a crown on your head. You are very brave, courageous and bold.” Thus, one moment Arjuna was ready and the next moment he lost heart.
Arjuna also asked God, “God, You have come now but when will You come again? You have said, ‘I will come again.’ But when will that happen?” In reply, God said, “Just forget about when I will come again. Just do what I tell you now”. Arjuna was told by God, “Arjuna, you do not realise that you and I have met before. You do not know about your births. I have come to tell you about these things. So start doing what I say. Accept what I say and believe me.” Arjuna said, “How can I believe you? You are in such a simple form. How can I know that you are God? Show me your real form.” So Arjuna, despite knowledge, yoga and love, still did not believe that it was God.
He then said to God, “Show me a vision of Yourself as You really are. Otherwise, how can I know you are really God?” So God gave him a vision. In that vision he saw a huge form, a very big face with the mouth wide open. He also saw how all the human beings of the world were either running or flying into God’s mouth. He said this was the variety-form of Vishnu. Arjuna was frightened and said, “Stop it now, I don’t want to see any more.” He reacted in that way because God had shown him this as a vision of destruction. God had shown Himself to be the God of Death, the Death of All Deaths.
Thus Arjuna said, “God, I cannot tolerate this. It’s too much for me.” And God took back that vision.
God then asked him, “All right, now what do you want next?” and then said, “Arjuna, do what you want to do. It’s up to you. Make that decision yourself.” The slokas (verses) in the Gita quote God as saying, “Do what you want to do. It’s all up to you. I’m not going to tell you anything anymore. Whatever I have to tell you I have already told you. If you don’t want to obey Me, it’s all right. Do whatever you want.” Then Arjuna began to feel frightened again and he said “No, no, God.” He touched God’s feet and said, “No, God, You tell me what to do and I will do whatever You say.” He touched His feet again and said, “I will immediately do anything you say.”
Then God spoke again, asking, “Why is it that until now you’ve not listened to anything I’ve said? Why is it that only now you say that you will do what I ask?” Arjuna answered, “The reason I’ll do it now is because I have renounced attachment. I only now understand what You were saying and my attachment has finished. I’ve finally realised who I am and who You are. Now I’ve realised everything and so I am ready.” His agreement signalled the last chapter of the Gita, the eighteenth chapter, in which Arjuna said, “God, I have now conquered attachment. I have had self-realisation. Now I will do whatever You say.”
The Gita consists of all the versions spoken by the Father Himself. Now let us recollect our days after we came to study Raja Yoga. Each one of us would have had a similar experience. Each one of us is Arjuna. So anyone who becomes the child of the Supreme Soul and hears the knowledge is Arjuna. The figure in the scripture, Arjuna, is the one who hears from God. Arjuna really means ‘arjan’, the one who has the aspirations and the inspiration to learn. The aspirant, the arjan, is the one who takes the initiative and reaps the fruit.
Brahma Baba became perfect and left his body on the 18th January 1969. The Supreme Soul has come and is narrating to us the eighteenth chapter of the Gita. Finally, Arjuna gave his chariot reins to God signifying that he had surrendered the reins of his intellect. Since both the mind and the intellect are in God’s hands, it will be easy for us to fight the battle. This is the time to become a real Arjuna, which means to stop asking question as to what, how and when. Arjuna became a real Arjuna only in the last chapter, the eighteenth chapter, because until then he was doubtful. Though he had not doubted God, he had doubted himself.
Arjuna had great love for God and had faith in Him. He was, however, doubtful about himself. He did not know that he could really do what God was asking of him. He only accepted this fully when he was able to renounce his attachment to his body and his bodily relations. This signifies that we can only understand what the Supreme Soul is saying when we are able to renounce body consciousness and the attachment to bodily relationships. If there are attractions and attachments to the body, bodily relations and possessions, then it is not possible for us to understand fully what the Supreme Soul is telling us.
What had God requested from Arjuna? God requested that Arjuna’s mind should become stable and that he should start fighting. The final test for all of us is also this “nashto moha, smriti swarup labda”, that is: conquer attachment and embodiment of remembrance.
One of the main aims in human life is to be constantly happy and stable. If one faces all situations in life with courage, complete faith in the self and undivided love for God, then there will be true success. This will lead to constant happiness and stability. A very good example of this is the character, Hanuman, as depicted in the Ramayana story.
In the murlis God sometimes describes Hanuman as a mahavir. ‘Maha’ means great and ‘vir’ means warrior. Mahavir is also the name of the great teacher of Jainism who lived at the same time as Buddha and who did intense meditation. Although he was confronted by many problems in his life, he conquered his fear through his courage and bravery. However, in this story ‘mahavir’ refers to Hanuman.
Hanuman was a monkey-deity renowned for his learning, agility and speed, as well as for his faithful service to Rama. He was the commander-in-chief of the monkey warriors of Sugriva’s kingdom and is still venerated as a god in India. As the son of Pavan, the Lord of the Wind, Hanuman possessed the faculty of flying. He is one of the chief characters in the Ramayana, where he is the faithful army general of Rama. In Hindu mythology it is said that he jumped from India to Sri Lanka in one leap and that he had the power to seize clouds and tear up trees and rocks. He could not only fly at the speed of wind but could also alter his size at will and make himself invisible. In battle he was a terrifying figure, as enormous and overpowering as a mountain.
Unlike the monkeys of today, Hanuman was gigantic. He had yellow fur and a red face, while his tail was many miles long and his voice was as loud as thunder. The demons, hoping to play a trick on him, put tar on his tail and set it alight, but Hanuman used his flaming tail to set fire to the entire city of Lanka. It is stated in the Ramayana that Hanuman went to Lanka ahead of Rama and the army of monkeys to deliver Rama’s message to his kidnapped wife Sita and to spy on the land. Along the way he had many adventures.
While he was on his way to Lanka to deliver the message, Hanuman began to think that, while he would be able to leap across to Lanka, he might not have the strength to leap back. However, an old monkey advised Hanuman that, if he had confidence in his strength and in his divine origin, he would be able to accomplish the task. When Hanuman reached Lanka, he reduced his size to that of a cat and wandered about freely, taking note of the city’s defences. He even wandered into the bedroom of Ravan, the demon who had kidnapped Sita. Eventually Hanuman located Sita and destroyed Ravan’s pleasure-gardens. While escaping, he set fire to Lanka.
During the battle Hanuman proved himself to be a valiant warrior. His greatest service, however, was to fly to the Himalayas to bring back medicinal herbs with which to cure Lakshman and others wounded on the battlefield. Apart from pharmacology and medicine, Hanuman also mastered many sciences, grammar and poetry.
Hanuman found complete fulfilment in rendering selfless service to his Master, Rama. When the battle of Lanka was over and the armies had returned to Ayodhya, God offered him any boon that he cared to name. Hanuman asked to be allowed to live for as long as men spoke of the deeds of God. In this way he actually acquired immortality, for the memory of God will never die.
Let us look at the spiritual significance of this remarkable character, Hanuman. Before we came to God, we were like monkeys, that is, we had many desires and vices. Now we have love for God and are His humble servers. Baba always gives examples of mahavirs. Hanuman was very brave. When Sita was in jail in Ravan’s kingdom, he went to give the message to Sita, the soul who was in bondage. Everybody told Hanuman that he would never be able to set foot in Lanka because Ravan, representing all external forms of vice, was very powerful and would kill him.
However, as God’s great and humble server Hanuman was not at all concerned. Unshakeable, firm in faith in himself and with love for God, he did manage to reach there. Because of this, Rama himself bowed to him. The significance of this story is that when we serve with true love as Hanuman did, with dedication and faith, God himself will bow to us. When there is courage, there will be victory. Baba refers to the foot as the foot of the intellect, which should be unshakeable.
Hanuman was a humble server who had great love for God. Once when he was given a garland of diamonds, he broke it apart and said that the diamonds were worthless if they did not have God’s name on them. This symbolises that material things are of limited use.
Another power Hanuman had was the power to fly . When during battle Lakshman was hit by Indra and became unconscious, Hanuman flew to bring life-giving herbs back from the mountain. In this case the life-giving herbs signify spiritual knowledge. Indra is a god known for his ego, because of which he fell to the earthly world. Thus, when Lakshman was hit by Indra, it meant that he was hit by ego and became unconscious. It is we souls who have to give the life-giving herbs, Godly knowledge, to those people who are full of ego in order to uplift them spiritually.
Hanuman had true love, was hard-working, very dedicated and humble, and had brought the life-giving herbs for the upliftment of Lakshman. He actually moved the entire mountain, which signifies that even the heaviest task becomes very light when it is done with humility and love for God. Hanuman had so much love for God that, it is said when he opened his chest, only Rama (God) could be seen in his heart.
Hanuman is considered to have had such humility that he would wait outside a gathering near the shoes rather than taking up a place someone else could occupy. In the murli Baba refers to the foot of the intellect. Leaving shoes outside signifies leaving the ego of the intellect outside so that we can imbibe God’s knowledge. Hanuman’s example shows that we do not have to prove ourselves, as true humility will always be recognised.
Hanuman is also shown with a red-coloured face, signifying the Brahm element. Hanuman’s powerful bravery shows that he is linked to the subtle world. His power comes from yoga with God. This means we get power when we link ourselves with God.
Hanuman went to Lanka to give a message to Sita. However, Ravan wanted to prevent his return to Rama and so set Hanuman’s tail on fire. This, however, did not prevent Hanuman from fulfilling his duty because he then turned this apparent setback to his own advantage and set the whole of Lanka on fire with his tail, thus helping to destroy Ravan’s vicious creation and help liberate Sita.
Baba refers to Hanuman’s tail as body-consciousness (specifically the vice of ego), so that spiritual meaning of this is that only by burning off all body-consciousness (and being egoless) can the soul be liberated. Attachment, greed, ego, lust and anger are all vices of monkey that need to be burnt. The tail of the monkey burnt the whole of Lanka. This signifies that only when body-consciousness is completely destroyed are we able to give God’s message effectively to the whole world.
Despite warnings from many about the power of Ravan’s vices, God’s humble server, Hanuman, still flew to give the message of God’s knowledge to Sita, who represents all the souls of the world. Similarly, we have to become as unshakeable as Hanuman when we do Godly service. In the story an old monkey reminds Hanuman of his strength and divine origin. This represents the coming of God Shiva into the old body of Brahma Baba to remind us of our true, original qualities and our eternal relationship with God, thus giving us strength, courage and confidence.