Lord Krishna Descends to Reestablish Vedic Culture, by Stephen Knapp

Why the Lord descends into this world is for multiple purposes, but primarily for two reasons. One of which is that, since He originally enunciated the ancient religious path of the Vedas for the benefit of the whole universe, whenever that becomes obstructed by the demoniac or wicked atheists, He descends in one of His forms, which is in the transcendental mode of pure goodness. Thus, He again establishes the righteous Vedic path. It is explained that He is the same Supreme Person, and in His incarnation as Krishna appeared in the home of Vasudeva with His plenary portion, Balarama, who played the part of Krishna’s brother. This was for the second reason, which is to relieve the earth of the burden of the demoniac. As Krishna, He came to kill the hundreds of armies led by the kings who were but expansions of the enemies of the gods, and to spread the fame of the Yadu dynasty. (Bhagavata Purana 10.48.23-24)

Arjuna, after understanding the position of Lord Krishna, recognized His superior position and said, “Thus You descend as an incarnation to remove the burden of the world and to benefit Your friends, especially those who are Your exclusive devotees and are rapt in meditation upon You.” (Bhagavata Purana 1.7.25)

The sages at Kuruksetra, while addressing Lord Krishna, also summarized the reason for Lord Krishna’s appearance in this world. They explained that at suitable times He assumes the mode of pure goodness to protect His devotees and punish the wicked. Thus, the Supreme Personality descends to maintain the eternal path of the Vedas by enjoying His pleasure pastimes. (Bhagavata Purana 10.84.18)

It is also described that when the Lord assumes a human-like body, it is to show His mercy to His devotees. Then He engages in the sort of pastimes that will attract those who hear about them. Then they may become dedicated to Him. (Bhagavata Purana 10.33.36) These pastimes of the Lord are so powerful that they can remove the sins of the three planetary systems and deliver those who are trapped in the continuous cycle of birth and death. (Bhagavata Purana 10.86.34) Those who desire to serve the Lord should hear of these activities. Hearing such narrations of these pastimes destroy the reactions to fruitive work [karma]. (Bhagavata Purana.10.90.49)

It is by Lord Krishna’s pastimes that He calls all the conditioned souls to Him through love. Thus, by His wondrous activities He attracts all beings to return to their natural, spiritual position by reawakening their dormant love and service to Him. This is the purpose of human life, which provides the best facility and intellect for understanding our spiritual identity and connection with the Lord. As Sukadeva Gosvami explained to Maharaja Pariksit, “He, the Personality of Godhead, as the maintainer of all in the universe, appears in different incarnations after establishing the creation, and thus He reclaims all kinds of conditioned souls amongst the humans, nonhumans and gods.” (Bhagavata Purana 2.10.42)

“To show causeless mercy to the devotees who would take birth in the future of this age of Kali, the Supreme Personality, Krishna, acted in such a way that simply by remembering Him one will be freed from all the lamentation and unhappiness of material existence.” (Bhagavata Purana 9.24.61) However, Lord Krishna also explains that when He descends in His human form, the fools who are ignorant of His spiritual nature and supreme dominion over everything deride and criticize Him. (Bhagavad-gita 9.11)

Nonetheless, Lord Krishna Himself further explains the reasons for His appearance in this world to King Muchukunda: “My dear friend, I have taken thousands of births, lived thousands of lives and accepted thousands of names. In fact, My births, activities and names are limitless, and thus even I cannot count them. After many lifetimes someone might count the dust particles on the earth, but no one can ever finish counting My qualities, activities, names and births. O King, the greatest sages enumerate My births and activities, which take place throughout the three phases of time, but never do they reach the end of them. Nonetheless, O friend, I will tell you about My current birth, name and activities. Kindly hear. Some time ago, Lord Brahma requested Me to protect religious principles and destroy the demons who were burdening the earth. Thus I descended in the Yadu dynasty, in the home of Anakadundubhi. Indeed, because I am the son of Vasudeva, people call Me Vasudeva.” (Bhagavata Purana 10.51.36-40)

OUR MISSION TO DEFEND VEDIC DHARMA

By understanding the above paragraphs, we should know that Lord Krishna appeared to reestablish the Vedic tradition because it had become lost. I emphasize this point because, in spite of the many challenges or threats against Vedic culture that Hindus face from others in upholding their tradition, sometimes they still say there is nothing for us to worry about because it is Sanatana-dharma, eternal, that it will never disappear no matter what happens in this world. When I hear this, I ask them whether they have really understood what Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita. For therein we can understand that this Vedic spiritual knowledge does indeed disappear or decline from the face of the earth at times, and must be brought back, or defended in order to keep it prevalent amongst humanity.

In the beginning of Chapter Four of the Bhagavad-gita, we hear of one of the prime reasons why Lord Krishna descended into this world. He explains it this way in a conversation with Arjuna:

“The Supreme Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku. This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time, the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost. That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.”

Arjuna then said: “The sun-god Vivasvan is senior by birth to You. How am I to understand that in the beginning You instructed this science to him?”

Bhagavan Sri Krishna then continued: “Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy! Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all sentient beings, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion–at that time I descend Myself. In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of dharma, I advent Myself millennium after millennium. One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Bhagavad-gita 4.1-9)

So here we see very clearly that Vedic dharma and its spiritual processes may indeed by eternal, but it may also decline or even disappear from humanity from time to time. This means that if Lord Krishna appeared to reestablish this knowledge and tradition, we should be serious about defending it and making sure that it does not start to decline again. When it comes to defending Vedic dharma, we need to understand that it is not just up to Lord Krishna. It is also up to us. We cannot expect that Lord Krishna will appear again so easily when He was here only 5,000 years ago to do what we should now be doing. We should take it upon ourselves to assist in preserving, protecting, and promoting it for its perpetuation. This is for the benefit of all humanity. We should be willing to take up a bold stance to meet this responsibility, or it may again very well start to decline from the face of the earth like it did before.

This is also why there are various acharyas and devotees, representatives of the Supreme, who may be empowered to provide the guidance for humanity so people everywhere can know how to continue the ways of following Vedic dharma and apply it to their lives.

So to help in this way is not only a service to humanity, but also a service to dharma itself, and to the mission of Lord Krishna, and to all representatives of Vedic culture. What can be a higher cause for us than that?

Gotras: A Simple Explanation

Whenever you go to visit a temple in India, and participate in the doing pujas or rituals, the priest will often ask you to which gotra your family line belongs. Then you tell him your gotra, and usually the names of your father and mother, and he puts that into the recitation of prayers to offer to the deity you are worshiping, and to get blessings from that deity. In other cases, a person introduces himself to elders by stating one’s name and gotra. This is a form of acknowledging one’s ancestral ties and all that has been given by one’s ancestors.

How the system of gotra works can be explained like this. First of all, the original spiritual knowledge was given by the Supreme Being to Lord Brahma, the secondary creator of the universe. From Brahma came the powerful rishis who were capable of receiving this knowledge and preserving it, and then spreading it throughout the universe, and down through the generations of humanity.

So, after the universal creation under the guidance of Lord Brahma, it is recorded that he had 27 sons who were also progenitors for mankind, called Prajapatis, who were the seeds of humanity which spread throughout the world. The familial line from each of these Prajapatis is called a gotra. So the names of the gotra carries the name of each one of these sages. In this way, the 27 sons of Brahma were also the beginnings for the 27 gotras.

These sons of Brahma were also learned sages called rishis. These seers came to be known as the mantra-drishtaraha, seers of the Vedic mantras. The main seven sages, called the Saptarshis (Seven Rishis), are Kashyapa, Vashistha, Bharadwaj, Kapila, Atri, Vishvamitra, and Gautama. It is also these Saptarshis which help preserve and propagate spiritual knowledge to humanity for everyone’s benefit. Additional sons of Brahma include Svayambhuva Manu, Adharma, Praheti, Heti, Aristanemi, Bhrigu, Daksha, Pracetas, Sthanu, Samshraya, Sesha, Vikrita, Kardama, Kratu, Pulaha, Pulastya, and Agiras, along with Marichi, Bhrigu, and Agastya.

The gotra also helps establish your identity as part of the Vedic tradition, and that your family lineage can be traced back to one of the original great rishis or sages from whom the knowledge of Vedic culture has descended. We all belong to one of these gotras, whether we know them or not. But it is a great insight to know your gotra.

However, these gotras have since increased through time to include many others. There are now two hundred and forty-nine gotras, of which approximately forty are common today. Of these forty include: Vatula, Atreya, Garga, Kaundinnya, Kaushika, Gautama, Naidhruva-kashyapa, Harita, Bharadvaja, Shandilya, Maudgalya, and Shrivasta.

Gotras are further classified into five groups, depending upon the number of rishi descendants in a particular gotra. These groups are:

1. Ekarsheya-pravara-gotra, having one rishi descendant.

2. Dvayarsheya-pravara-gotra, having two rishi descendants.

3. Treyarsheya-pravara-gotra, having three rishi descendants.

4. Pancharisheya-pravara-gotra, having five rishi descendants.

5. Saptarisheya-pravara-gotra, having seven rishi descendants.

One example could be a Treyarsheya-pravara-gotra of Vatula, Atreya, and Kaushika gotras, or another line of three (treya) rishis.

Another point about this is that in India, one’s gotra is important because they help avoid what would be called inbreeding, or families marrying within their own gotra. In fact, sometimes they avoid four gotras, including your father’s gotra, your mother’s, your paternal grandmother’s, and your maternal grandmother’s. Marrying someone outside of these four mentioned gotras is said to help prevent birth defects or deformities in their children by keeping people from marrying within the same genetic roots.

In any case, this is a Vedic tradition that seems to be traced back to the beginning of time.

The Purpose of Ritual Worship, by Stephen Knapp

Some people may ask what is the point of doing ritual worship? To this we should understand that traditional rites have a definite influence upon individuals. The activities involved while performing rituals may include a yajna, chanting mantras, special offerings, and group participation, which are based upon scientific principles. Scientists acknowledge the influence of sound and music, color, magnetic vibrations, and knowledge on which we concentrate. There is no doubt about the uplifting effect of rites and rituals. Good actions promote good habits and positive impressions that are absorbed by the mind and consciousness. Even psychologists admit that a person picks up good habits quickly when directed by good people in the correct environment.

The conscious mind controls the bulk of everyday activities. The unconscious mind looks after the more subtle and finer activities. The conscious mind collects impressions and influences from the outside world. The Vedic rituals provide a means for this to happen. However, the unconscious mind sorts the information and builds memories. Depending upon the kind of impressions and influences one gathers from the environment, the subconscious mind gradually transforms itself accordingly. A skillful and efficient mind renders the best support and service to the soul. It is not possible to awaken the perception of one’s soul without a knowledgeable, controlled and pure mind.

During rites and rituals a priest invokes the blessings of the deities. When individuals experience the kindness of gods and are emotionally touched during the yajna and other activities, the mind gets charged with religious feelings. The importance of the occasion, the enthusiasm, the purity of the place, an emotional oath by the individual, the presence of the family, relatives and friends together add up to create a special kind of mental state. Activities during rituals leave an indelible impression upon the individual. This impression specially influences and educates the mind.

The effect of the ceremonies depends upon the atmosphere on the occasion and the way it is conducted. Hindus observe a variety of rites and rituals. The Gautam Smriti mentions that there are 40 basic rituals. Some religious texts place this figure at 48. According to Maharishi Angira, there are 25 basic forms of rituals.

THE PURPOSE OF THE AGNIHOTRA RITUAL

Agnihotra simply means a sacrificial fire. This is the ritual in which ghee and sesame seeds, and on some occasions other items, are offered into a small fire, usually in a pot or special container, while the priest chants various mantras for petitioning the presence and mercy of God. The fire, Agnideva the fire god, becomes the mouth of God, through which He accepts our offerings. These are also distributed to the other demigods, thus, prayers to many divinities may be chanted during the ceremony. The ritual invokes auspiciousness, peace, goodwill, and changes the vibrations and atmosphere wherever it is held.

Amongst Hindus, there is a family name Agnihotri, which is derived from the fact that at one time these families maintained a perpetual fire in their homes. In many homes even today prayers are offered with the fire.

In the Valmiki Ramayana (1/6/12), it is said: Everyone performed Agnihotra in Ayodhya everyday. Lord Ram and Sita performed Agnihotra on the day of the coronation. It is also said the aggrieved Kaushalya did not miss out on Agnihotra even on the day Rama left home for 14 years of exile.

In the Suttinipat (568/21), Buddha explained the importance of Agnihotra: Just as the ocean amongst the rivers, a king amongst the people, and Savitri amongst the verses, Agnihotra is amongst the yajnas (rituals).

In the Atharva-Veda (19/55/3) it is also explained: May the fire in the home give us happiness and peace in the morning and evening, a happy temperament, resolve and good health. May it give us fame and honor. May we awaken you through yajna fire so that we may be robust and strong. Agnihotra promotes good health and mental contentment. It is a ladder to spirituality.

In the Atharva-Veda (9/2/6) it is said: Agnihotra destroys enemies.

The flames, smoke, and vibrations of the Agnihotra promote mental peace and give contentment. It clarifies the air in the home, spreads fragrance, purifies the atmosphere and thus helps householders. It gives them energy and the power to concentrate. It releases mental tension. Through a cleaner environment it promotes good health for everyone and has innumerable benefits.

The Agnihotra ritual is also called a yajna, or Vedic ritual. However, when conducting a yajna (pronounced as yagya) it is customary to have a havan or fire sacrifice. The fire is ceremoniously lit, symbolic of inviting Agni, the fire God. Thereafter as mantras are chanted an offering in the form of ghee or havan samagri (a mixture of herbs and ghee) is offered to the fire at the end of the mantra. This is also called ahuti, which is an oblation or offering that is put into the fire. While making the offering, the word Swaha is uttered loudly.

The Matsya Purana says that when the five essential constituents – gods, havan fluid or offering (such as ghee), Vedic mantras, the divine law, and a gift to the Brahmin – are there, it is a yajna (complete sacrificial ritual). Any good activity done for universal welfare is a yajna.

Sages and saints have identified three purposes of a yajna – prayer to gods, developing harmonious company, and charity. Prayers to gods are used as models to shape our lives. Harmonious company is having relatives and friends who share similar thoughts and are motivated towards togetherness and mutual support. Charity is to share one’s blessings, extend support to society and create a feeling of universal brotherhood.

Through a yajna one attains physical, mental and internal peace, purification of the self, spiritual progress, and protection from sickness. The yajna fire has five qualities – it is always hot or active; it is exemplary; it is attractive to all that come to it; it is generous because it gives rather than stores its benefits; and the flame is always high, symbolizing concern, character, and self-respect.

In the Kalika Purana  (23/7/8) it is said: Yajnas please the gods. It was through a yajna that the entire world was established. Yajnas support the whole world. Yajna protects people from sin. People live on grain. Grain is produced from clouds that bring rain. Clouds emerge from the yajnas. The whole universe depends upon yajnas.

In the Upanishads it is also explained: Through yajnas the gods attained heaven and overcame the demons. Through yajnas even enemies become friends. Therefore outstanding people consider a yajna a special activity.

In the Agni Purana (380/1) it is said: Through a yajna the gods grant one’s wishes.

In the Padma Purana (Shristhi Khand, 3/124), it is said that pleased by a yajna the gods bless mankind with well-being.

In the Manu Samhita (3/76), it is related that an oblation dutifully offered to the fire is received by Surya.

In the Sama-Veda (879) it is said that whoever offers oblations to the fire is blessed with good children, wisdom, wealth and prosperity.

When Brahma created mankind, man visualized that his life would be full of need, problems and sorrow. He complained to Brahma, “Lord! Who would nourish and protect insecure mankind?”

Brahma responded, “Dear son! Through a yajna offer oblations to the gods. They will bless you with wealth, prosperity, well-being and fame.”

In a yajna, after chanting the mantra it is customary to say Swaha when making an oblation to the fire. Swaha is the name of Agni’s wife. It is customary to invoke her name during an offering to make her the medium of the oblation. Swaha literally means good speech.

THE PURPOSE OF A TEMPLE

A temple is a place where the deities are enshrined and worshiped. In personal expression, a temple is the abode of God. A temple represents an ocean of spiritual energy, which preserves and protects culture and tradition. It magnifies the spiritual vibration which the devotees can then use like a spiritual launching pad from which one can hasten and charge one’s own spiritual development by coming closer to the spiritual dimension. Even a temple room in one’s own house can work in this way to some extant.

PURPOSE OF THE DEITY OR IMAGE (MURTI) IN THE TEMPLE

Followers of Sanatana-Dharma believe in the concept of Atma (soul) and Paramatma (Super Soul). The Atma is the individual soul and is present in all beings. The Paramatma is the plenary expansion of Lord Vishnu which expands and appears as the Supersoul in all beings, and accompanies the individual soul in any situation or species. Yoga is meant to establish a connection, link or relationship between the soul and Supersoul, God. It is easier to build a relationship with God if one thinks of Him as a person. The deities are the personal manifestation of God that provides the mercy for us to see Him with our material eyes. Generally, until we become more spiritually developed, we cannot see spiritual items with our material mind and senses. So, the deity is the Lord’s mercy on us so that we can still see Him in our present materialistic conditioning. The deity, once formed under strict rules, is then also installed in the temple in a special ritual in which by various means we call the Lord to inhabit the deity. Then the deity is considered to be no different than the Lord Himself.

WHY WE WORSHIP IMAGES

Almost any person [except maybe Jews] believes or utilizes an image or symbol of their religion, culture, or even business. This is not unusual. The Cross in the Christian church, the picture of Jesus Christ, the statue of Mary, statues of patron saints, even the black stone in Kabba are all what we could call images. If anyone bows in front of any of them, they are breaking laws of Old Testament. [LE 26:1, and EX 20:2-5.] So, use of images is practically everywhere and all people worship something or someone. In fact, the first sculpture of Christ was in the form of a small boy holding a lamb. Now, everywhere in the world people have pictures of Christ according to their culture. A loving, young, white man in the USA, or a tough man looking like a judge in Russia, a nice black man in Africa, and you find a man looking like a typical Chinese with a sheepish beard in China. All religions have some concept of God with name and form, but Hindus have the courage to present the details as described in their scripture.

The images and deities of the Divine that are worshiped in the Vedic temples or in homes of those who follow Sanatana-dharma are not someone’s concocted imaginings. They are based on the detailed descriptions of God’s form as described in the Vedic texts. This is another beauty of the Vedic culture. Whereas most texts of other religions offer little information on God’s appearance and characteristics, these become specifically revealed in the Vedic tradition. Thus, we know what God looks like and can form images accordingly. Then these deities are installed, calling the personality of the Divine, according to specific prayers and rituals. And this is called the Prana Pratishta ceremony.

As the Supreme Controller, God can appear to His devotees in any of His specific forms. And even if some say that these images that are presented are made of nothing but stone or wood, still God can turn what is spiritual into something material, or something material into something spiritual. In this way, we can use our material senses and still have the vision of God in the form of the deity, and approach Him with our love and service. Thus, the authorized deity is not an idol, and should not be called an idol, but is the Lord’s mercy in giving us the chance to see something spiritual with material eyes. Of course, as we become more spiritualized, we can see with our inner spiritual eyes the transcendental form and activities of the Supreme Being, even while in this body that we have now.

An example is that the Post Office has authorized post boxes in which we put our mail, which is then picked up and delivered to the address on the envelope. If, however, we make our own unauthorized box and put it where we like, if we put our mail in it, it will not go anywhere. In the same way, by praying to the authorized forms of God our service will reach Him and be accepted by Him. Besides, there are many stories of how deities have come to life and interacted with devotees and engaged in all kinds of pastimes with them in very personal ways. So they are always full of potential to interact with us, or merely watch and see what we do, or even leave the deity form if we are too offensive or do not understand the basis of the deity. Thus, a deity, though appearing to be made of material ingredients, should in no way be considered material. The Lord can indeed make what is material into something spiritual, or take what is spiritual and make it appear as material. In short, the deities are the personal manifestation of the gods or goddesses they depict. So we should never think that deities are nothing but stone or wood. In fact, the Vedic scripture says that anyone who thinks in such a way exhibits a hellish mentality.

In this way, even though we may be unqualified to see God, who is beyond the perceptibility of our material senses, the living beings in this material creation are allowed to see and approach the Supreme through His archa-vigraha or His form as the worshipable deity in the temple. This is considered His causeless mercy on the materially conditioned living beings that He would allow Himself to appear to humanity as a deity to accept our worship and service.

In this manner, the Supreme Being gives Himself to His devotees so they can become absorbed in serving, remembering and meditating on Him. Thus, the Supreme comes to dwell in the temple to accept our worship and attract the eyes to concentrate and meditate on the deity, and the temple becomes the spiritual abode on earth. In time, the body, mind and senses of the devotee become spiritualized by serving the deity, and the Supreme can become fully manifest to him or her. Worshiping the deity of the Supreme and using one’s senses in the process of devotional service to the Supreme provides a means for one’s true essential spiritual nature to unfold. The devotee becomes spiritually realized and the deity reveals His spiritual nature to the sincere souls according to their progressive spiritual development. This can continue to the level in which the Supreme Being in the form of the deity engages in a personal relationship and performs reciprocal, loving pastimes with the devotee, as has previously taken place with other advanced individuals.

At this stage, darshan is not simply a matter of viewing the deity in the temple, but to one who is spiritually realized it is a matter of experiencing the deity and entering into a personal, reciprocal exchange with the Supreme in the form of the deity. At that stage, you may view the deity, but the deity also gazes at you, and then there is a spiritual exchange wherein the deity begins to reveal His personality to you. This is what separates those who are experienced from those who are not, or those who can delve into this spiritual exchange and those who may still be trying to figure it out. For those who have experienced such an exchange with the Supreme or His deity, at this stage the worship of the Supreme Being in the deity moves up to a whole different level, with no limits as to the spiritual love that can be shared between the devotee and the deity. This also opens up a completely new level of conversation on this topic, which we can save for another time. But this is why the deity in the temple is the main focal point of everything that goes on there.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ARATI CEREMONY

The arati ceremony is the most performed of any ritual in the temple, and is the offering of a ghee lamp to the deity or object of respect. These lamps usually have five or more flames on them. Arati is performed in the temples to the Deities several times a day. It is also offered to special guests and holy saints. It is also accompanied with ringing a bell, singing or playing musical instruments.

In offering the lamp to the deity, it is held in the right hand and waved in a clockwise motion, 4 times to the feet, 2 times to the waist, and seven times around the whole body. It is a way of adding an intensity to the prayers and the image of the Lord. Besides, the aroma of the burning ghee is quite pleasing. Afterwards, the ghee lamp is passed around the room so that everyone can place their hands over the flame that has been offered to the deity, accepting it as holy remnants, prasada, and then touch the hands to the eyes or head. This is a gesture of accepting the light of knowledge, and the light which revealed the Lord. We use the lamp to light the form of the Lord who is in fact the source of all light. This was particularly significant before there was electricity and when temples were lit by lamps. The arati ceremony would especially provide light to various parts of the deity when the priest would wave the lamp in front of it. Some of the older temples in India are still like this today. We also accept this lamp as a symbol of lighting our own vision and thoughts with hopes that they may be divine and noble.

Sometimes camphor is also used in place of ghee. This also presents a pleasing scent. The ghee or camphor also represents our inherent tendencies that are being offered to the fire of knowledge, which reveals the form of the Lord and thus increases our mental and physical purity in service to the Lord.

In some arati ceremonies there is not only the ghee lamp or deep that is offered but also the incense, a camphor lamp, a water filled conch shell, flowers, chamara fan, peacock feather fan, etc. These are for several reasons. One is that these are items to honor and offer comfort to the deity, but they also represent the different elements, such as earth, fire, water, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and ego. So we are also offering all the elements back to the deity, as well as our own mind, senses, intelligence and ego. This means that the performer of the arati is offering all of themselves to the deity, and if those who observe the arati follow along with the right meditation, then they also can meditate on offering all of themselves to the deity. You ask the deity to accept these items for their pleasure, but also to accept your whole being in their service, and as an offering for the deity to bless you to help you reach them and the spiritual atmosphere.

THE REASON LAMPS ARE USED

In many homes and temples there are lamps that are lit. And many special functions start with the lighting of a lamp. Light symbolizes knowledge which keeps us free from the darkness of ignorance. Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness. Therefore, the lamp is lit and we bow to it as this knowledge is the greatest form of wealth. It is kept lit during special functions as a guide and witness to our thoughts and actions. Of course, now lamps are not as necessary with the use of electric bulbs, etc. But the lamp is the traditional instrument which represents our vasanas or negative inclinations, while the wick signifies our ego. As the lamp burns, it also represents the burning away of our bad habits and bodily ego. The flame burns upward, as knowledge also takes our views higher.

In the old days when the temples did not have electricity, the lamps offered to the deity during the arati ceremony were also the main way the devotees could see the shape of the deity. So it is the lamp, which represents knowledge, that lights the deity, just as it is with transcendental knowledge which allows us to understand or awaken to the awareness of God. So after the lamp is offered to the deity it is circulated amongst the observes, and they receive the lamp of knowledge that has revealed the deity by touching it or waving their hands over it, and then bringing their hands up to their forehead or eyes. This is a gesture of respect toward the lamp and knowledge that has revealed the deity, and also that this knowledge will awaken spiritual awareness within them.

WHY RING BELLS IN TEMPLES

When entering a temple, most of them have one or more bells hung from the ceiling. The devotee rings the bells as he or she enters, then proceeds for darshan to see the deities. The ring of the bell produces a sound similar to Om, the universal name of the Lord. This helps create an atmosphere of auspiciousness when entering the temple. This is also a reason why a bell is rung by a priest, pujari, while doing the arati ceremony. Ringing the bell, blowing the conch, and engaging in the kirtanas or singing holy songs, are all ways to worship the Lord and keep away all inauspicious and irrelevant noises and thoughts that might disturb or distract the worshipers from their devotions and inner peace. In this way, the bell is also a call to focus our attention on the ceremony.

WHY A CONCH SHELL IS BLOWN

Whether in temples or in our household temple rooms, the conch shell is blown three times before the arati ceremony or puja worship. It is kept on the altar as a symbol for Truth, dharma, auspiciousness, and victory. It also was blown before a battle or after the victory of an army. Blowing the conch emanates the sound of Om, which contains all the knowledge of the Vedas. It is an auspicious sound and represents the truth behind the illusion. It also can purify the atmosphere, as well as the minds of those who hear it. It also represents dharma or righteousness. So it is appropriate for it to be blown before the arati or puja. The sound of the conch draws one’s attention to the presence of the Lord and the Vedic sound vibration. It thus drowns out the negative noises that may distract us from the sacred atmosphere or disturb our minds. This is also why sometimes devotees bow to the sound of the conch when it is blown.

The tradition relates that there was once a demon named Shankhasura who had defeated the devas and stole the Vedas from them. He then hid at the bottom of the ocean. The devas prayed to Lord Vishnu for assistance. He incarnated as Matsya and killed the demon. The Lord blew one of the conch shells that hung from His ears and the Om resonated, from which the Vedas returned. For this reason the conch is also called shankha after Shankhasura. The Lord’s conch shell is named Panchajanya.

WHY COCONUTS ARE OFFERED

One of the most common items that are offered to the deities in the temple is the coconut. You will also see it being used to start special occasions, like weddings, festivals, etc., when it is offered and then broken. You may also see it sitting on top of a ceremonial pot with mango leaves. This is a representation of Lakshmi devi, the goddess of fortune, or sometimes Lord Shiva. The coconut is offered to the deity as a representation of the body (the coconut shell), the mind (the white fruit within) and the soul (the coconut milk). All these are offered to the deity, and then it is broken to let out the milk and fruit. This indicates the breaking of the ego. Then, after it is offered to the Lord, what remains is accepted as remnants from the Lord, as prasada. This represents a complete circle in which God accepts our offering of the body, mind and soul and gives back the mercy, prasada, of the Lord.

WHY A KALASHA (POT) IS WORSHIPED

Sometimes, especially during a homa ritual, there is a special pot or kalasha, topped with a coconut, that is given special attention. The pot may be made from brass, copper or mud, and filled with water. Tied around its neck may be a red and white string. The pot often has designs on its sides. It may be used for special occasions like weddings, or set near entrances of homes, etc. The water in the kalasha symbolizes the waters of creation when the cosmic manifestation appeared with the arrangements of Lord Vishnu and Brahma. The leaves and coconut represent the creation, while the string indicates the love that is the foundation of the whole creation. When prayers are offered to the kalasha, it is considered that all the holy waters, the Vedic knowledge, and the blessings of the deities are invoked in it. The purified water within is then used in the rituals. At other times, the prayers are used to invoke the energy of the Goddess of Fortune, Lakshmi Devi, and the kalasha becomes a representation of Lakshmi Devi.

PURPOSE OF CIRCUMAMBULATING TEMPLES OR DEITIES

Another thing that you may see is when devotees circumambulate and go around the deities in the sanctum of a temple, or even around the temple itself, or around sacred places, like special hills or even holy towns. This is called pradakshina. This is a means of recognizing the center point of our lives, the center of the circular path we take in honor of the deities of the Lord, or something connected with Him. This is done in a clockwise manner so to keep the deity on our right, which is the side of auspiciousness. So in a way, it is a reflection of going through life while keeping God in the center. Walking around holy sites is another way of undergoing austerities for spiritual merit. It is accepted that each step takes away some of our material karma, and thus helps us get free from the mundane affairs and worldly consciousness which causes us to undertake the actions which create our karma, which helps free us from further rounds of birth and death in this material world. Respect can be shown to our superiors or parents by circumambulating them three times as well.

THE POTENCY OF CHARANAMRITA

The word charanamrita comprises two words, charan and amrita. Charan means feet and amrita is the celestial nectar that makes one immortal. Together the words mean nectar of God’s feet. This is the water that has been used to bathe the deity of the Lord in the temple. It glides down the body of the deity and through His lotus feet. It is then gathered and sometimes mixed with yogurt and a little sugar and offered to all who come to the temple to see the deities. Thus, having touched the body of the deity form of the Lord, the water becomes spiritually very powerful. Those who come to the temple to see the deities gladly accept three drops in the palm of their right hand, which is supported by their left, and then sip it from their palm.

Charanamrita is normally kept on a special table near the deities in a copper vessel, as copper has many curative qualities. Ayurveda and homoeopathic practitioners have confirmed this. Copper cures spasmodic pains. It is believed that drinking water stored in a copper vessel improves intellect, memory, and wisdom.

The Padma Purana says that even if one has not done any pious activities at all, if a person accepts the charanamrita of the deity, he becomes eligible to enter Vaikuntha.

In the Ramayana (Ayodhya Kand, Doha 101) Tulsidas has said: When Kewat washed the feet of Sri Rama and accepted the water as charanamrita, not only did he attain salvation, but his forefathers also attained it.

In the text called Ranvir Bhaktiratanakara Brahma, it is said: To absolve oneself of sins and get rid of disease God’s charanamrita is like medicine. If tulasi leaves are added, the qualities are enhanced.

In the Ranvir Bhaktisagar it is said: Charanamrita protects one from untimely death. It destroys all kinds of diseases. It breaks the chain of death and rebirth.

In this way, Charanamrita has great qualities and benefits a person physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Therefore, always accept charanamrita with grace and humility.

PURPOSE OF OFFERING FOOD TO THE LORD BEFORE EATING

We often see that food preparations are offered to the deities during the worship or at festival times. Or even in homes of devotees, food is prepared and then offered to the deities in the family temple room before anyone else accepts it. Then it is taken as prasada or mercy of the deities or God as spiritualized food. Even in many western homes food is taken only after observing a prayer. This is a recognition that whatever blessings we receive in life is a result of the Lord’s arrangement. After all, everything is God’s property, and we are merely borrowing it. So we offer to God whatever we accept before taking it ourselves. We can especially do this with food.

Furthermore, it has been detected that the particles of food change when prayers are said over it. So offering the food increases the high level of energy that goes into it that would otherwise not be there. More about this can be found elsewhere.

Importance of Bhagavad-gita in This Day and Age, by Stephen Knapp

Most everyone at some point hears about the Bhagavad-gita, but do they know what it really contains, or how profound and deep is the knowledge that it provides?

Besides being the classic Eastern text that it is, and the summary of most Upanishadic information, it is the core of the deepest levels of spiritual knowledge. It is also like a handbook for life. Just as when you purchase an appliance of some kind, like a refrigerator, television or computer, you get a manual that teaches you how to use it. So in the same way, if God created this world and put us here, doesn’t it seem that He should also tell us what is the purpose of this life and how to use it accordingly? The Bhagavad-gita is such an instruction manual for anyone. It provides the basic answers that most people have about life, and the universal spiritual truths that can be used by anyone, anywhere, and at any time in history. In this way it is timeless.

So let me explain a little of its importance and why we should take it seriously. I will not go into all of the details of what the Bhagavad-gita teaches, but I will provide a quick overview and summary of each chapter to give you an idea of the information you can discover and the benefits if you read it.

Of course, we know it was spoken on the battlefield at Kurukshetra as the forces prepared for war, a war meant to uphold the Dharmic principles against those who were bereft of them and before things became more evil then they already were, so there was little time in which to speak the Bhagavad-gita. Therefore, it was a brief conversation between Arjuna and Lord Krishna.

So, once the scene is set in the first chapter, from the second chapter it begins to explain some of the highest spiritual realizations known to humanity. It begins to explain exactly who and what we really are as spiritual beings. Without this knowledge in a person’s life, the Vedic literature says that humans are little better than polished animals.

The reason for this conclusion is that the human life is especially meant for spiritual inquiry because in no other species of life here on earth does the living being have the faculty, such as the intelligence and the means to understand spiritual knowledge. Otherwise, this implies that there is little difference in the purpose of life between humans and animals who are mostly interested in merely eating, sleeping, mating, and defending what they think is theirs.

However, human life is not merely the means to acquire knowledge from the teachings and explanations of others, but it also offers the facility to realize it within oneself by practice. It is a matter of uplifting one’s consciousness so that one can perceive the higher dimensions that exist all around us. This is more than merely accepting something on faith alone, but it is a matter of attaining direct perception of what the Vedic literature discusses.

So, from the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, we begin to learn our real identity as the soul within these bodies. The Bhagavad-gita explains the size and nature of the soul, and how it is completely transcendental or beyond the body itself. It is beyond time and beyond the effects of the three dimensional world. It is beyond the limitations of the body and mind.

This teaches us many things. It shows that regardless of our physical limitations, we can rise above them because, spiritually, we are already above them. We simply have to realize that. What does it mean to realize it? It means to directly perceive that truth, to see it as plain as day. And then live according to that realization. This teaches us that regardless of our situation, socially or physically or economically, we can rise to higher levels of existence, both in this world and in the next.

This teaches us that no matter what kind of pressures we may feel from our classmates at school, or what good or bad biases that may come from our fellow workers, or what kind of labels they put on us, or how much they may purposefully demean or criticize us, or even how great we think we are, we can be grounded, fixed in understanding who and what we really are as a spiritual being inside the limited material body. That is how we should see ourselves. And then we can be confident that regardless of what others may say, we know who we are and can go through life fixed in perceiving our real identity and our purpose in this life and what really is our higher potential. As an old saying points out, it is better to see yourself truly than to care how others see you.

When you are spiritually grounded, it is no longer necessary to always try to convince others of your self-worth, or of your social status, or of trying to make it into the right clique or group of people. We become convinced of who we are. We work in our own way to provide a contribution to society, to make something of ourselves that has meaning, beyond the typical superficialities and meaningless and worldly gossip that occupy the minds of most youth and adults today. We know that as long as we keep working in our own way, both intellectually and spiritually, attaining the skills that will enable us to do something significant, that our time will come when we can make a mark on this world in our own sphere of influence, which may continue to expand from there.

So we may be popular in school or not, or recognized in our career or not, but by our spiritual knowledge, as provided in the Bhagavad-gita, and by the confidence it gives us, we work to always become better, more uplifted, more refined, and more realized than we are, always making ourselves into a better person. Then we can help ourselves and others in more effective ways. This is just some of what the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita can provide if we look into it carefully and understand who we really are and what is our greater potential.

As we proceed through the Bhagavad-gita, in Chapter Three, Lord Krishna discusses Karma-yoga, the knowledge of how every action creates an opposite and equal reaction. Fifty years ago in this country of the USA, hardly anyone spoke of karma, unless they were students of yoga or Eastern philosophy. Now everyone talks of karma, it is a part of the vocabulary, whether they really understand it or not. But the point is, where do you think that came from? How do you think they started to know about karma, or yoga for that matter, except for the fact that the teachings of the East and yoga, which are centered around the Bhagavad-gita, continued to spread throughout the West.

Similarly, considering all the knowledge that the Bhagavad-gita has within it, do you think that you will learn such things in the colleges or university courses? Hardly. You have to go beyond that. You have to take separate or alternative studies, like in studying the Bhagavad-gita or other Vedic texts, or listening to those who know about it. Then you can also begin to learn the basic laws of the universe as outlined in the Bhagavad-gita, as in the laws of karma. Otherwise, how will you begin to understand that your present circumstances and tendencies may be carry-overs from a previous existence? Or even from many previous existences that we have experienced. You only begin to understand these things by studying the Bhagavad-gita, the teachings of which are also expanded in the Upanishads, and then even more elaborated in the Puranas and other Vedic texts and commentaries.

In Chapter Four, called Transcendental Knowledge, it is explained to Arjuna how this knowledge was given down through the parampara, or disciplic succession. Lord Krishna explains the purpose and the transcendental nature of His appearance in this world. Also how to perform one’s actions so they are spiritual activities, which can then enable a person to reach the spiritual abode.

In Chapter Five, Karma-yoga, Action in Krishna Consciousness, it is explained how to perform one’s actions in the right consciousness of bhakti-yoga, and the way to focus on the natural, self-sufficient happiness within.

In Chapter Six, Sankhya-yoga, we find the instructions on how to conquer the mind to attain the natural inner happiness–beyond the senses–and become established in self-realization, the perception of one’s real identity. And then to see all else, all things around you with a steady mind, free from desires and possessiveness.

Then Lord Krishna gives instructions on how to practice yoga and meditation so that we can eventually perceive the spiritual dimension all around us, of which we are a part. Then we can enter and experience boundless transcendental joy and bliss, free from maya or illusion, and in touch with the Supreme Consciousness. Then such a person can see God everywhere and every being in God. Thus, he is never lost.

In Chapter Seven, Knowledge of the Absolute, we have the instructions on how to know God, and how to see that everything rests and depends on God, like pearls strung on a thread. Also, how to recognize the power of God in all the powerful aspects of nature. Thus, we become aware of God and His potencies in all things around us until we reach the abode of God.

Chapter Eight, Attaining the Supreme. This chapter gives more specific information about the ways of material nature, how to get free of it, and how our consciousness at the time of death, developed by our thoughts, words and deeds, determines our next life, our next destination. Therefore, if we are remembering God, Krishna, then we can attain Him. So the instructions include how to think of Lord Krishna and attain Him through devotional yoga. Also, there are instructions in how to understand the higher and eternal nature, beyond all matter, which is the ultimate destination of us all.

In Chapter Nine, The Most Confidential Knowledge, Lord Krishna gives advice that this spiritual knowledge is the king of all knowledge, the most secret of all secrets, and by following it we can attain direct perception of the self by realization. Lord Krishna goes on to explain how everything is working under Him, but fools will never be able to recognize this. But by engaging in devotional yoga, the mind becomes spiritualized enough to understand God as He is by realization, far beyond any mental speculation. Lord Krishna goes on to explain that He is impartial to all, but becomes a friend to those who offer loving service. By engaging in this process systematically, you can reach the highest abode.

In Chapter Ten, The Opulence of the Absolute, we find explanations on how everything, all spiritual and material worlds, emanate from the Absolute Truth–God. Those who know this engage in devotional yoga to God, and with that love, Lord Krishna gives them the understanding by which they can come to Him.

Then Lord Krishna tells Arjuna how He is situated in all the powers and powerful things throughout the universe, whether it is the radiant sun, the tranquil moon, the water of the ocean, the transcendental Om, the chanting of the holy names as in japa meditation, and in the immovable Himalayas, and much more. But it is only with a single fragment of His energy does Lord Krishna pervade and support this entire universe. This leads to…

Chapter Eleven, The Universal Form. It is in this chapter wherein Lord Krishna shows Arjuna, by giving Arjuna divine eyes, how He is spread throughout the entire universe by His energies and expansions. Some of what Arjuna sees is beautiful beyond compare, and other things that he sees in this universal form are terrible and frightening. Some are hundreds of thousands of multicolored divine forms, as well as demigods, planets, past and future events, and a splendor so bright it would equal hundreds of thousands of suns. Both birth and death could be seen within this amazing universal form that spread in all directions, both near and far throughout the universe.

This made Arjuna humble, who then requested Krishna to relieve him of this view and show him His four-armed form, and then again His more familiar and lovable two-armed form.

Now Arjuna was convinced that Lord Krishna was the Supreme and everything both within and beyond this material manifestation, as well as the father and creator of this material manifestation.

Then in Chapter Twelve, Devotional Service, Lord Krishna explains the ultimate goal of life, and the essence of how to practice bhakti-yoga, focusing especially on how to serve and fix our mind and intelligence on the Supreme as Lord Krishna in all our activities and undertakings.

Then we have Chapter Thirteen, Nature, The Enjoyer, and Consciousness. This explains how the body is the center of the field of material activities, and how we should understand the body as the vehicle in which both the soul and Supersoul–Paramatma–reside. Also, that the body is not our real identity, but we should see through the body to recognize the living being within. The soul is beyond the body and illuminates the body by consciousness. This is the symptom of the soul within. Now we merely have to spiritualize our consciousness to directly perceive the soul, and then see the difference between the body and soul.

The field of activities also includes the five elements, ego, intelligence, the senses, mind, and various emotions that project from the mind, along with all moving and non-moving things. Aside from all this, Lord Krishna explains the characteristics of His expansion as the Supersoul and how to perceive Him within.

In Chapter Fourteen, The Three Modes of Material Nature, Lord Krishna describes the three modes or gunas and their characteristics as goodness (sattva), passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas), and the nature of those according to how they are situated in each of these modes of nature. This also determines if one is progressing upward while acting in the mode of goodness, or simply maintaining while in the mode of passion, or regressing downward in ignorance or darkness. This analysis will also reveal the condition of one’s next birth. As explained in verses 14 and 15 in this chapter: “When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains the pure higher planets. When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when he dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.”

So the goal is to know how to act in order to rise above these three modes, which Lord Krishna clearly explains as being the process of devotional yoga.

Chapter Fifteen, The Yoga of the Supreme Person. Here Lord Krishna emphasizes how to engage in that yoga process which can elevate you to rise above all material inebriates and limitations, and material happiness and distress, in order to reach the spiritual abode.

Even though the living beings are all parts of the Lord, they are struggling very hard with the mind and the mental interpretations of our experiences within this material field of activities and the way we see ourselves in this world. Furthermore, until these conceptions are purified, they are carried from one body to the next, one life to the next, just as air carries aromas. One who is spiritually ignorant cannot understand how this takes place. But the progressing transcendentalist can clearly see all of this. Krishna also explains that one who knows Him as the Supreme Being knows everything and engages in devotional yoga to Him, and his endeavors will know perfection.

Chapter Sixteen, The Divine and Demoniac Natures. Here Lord Krishna makes it clear how to recognize the Divine qualities and actions, as well as the demoniac, both of which are in ourselves and in those around us. It is only the divine qualities that are conducive to spiritual progress and liberation, whereas the demoniac actions and qualities will keep you bound in material existence for many lifetimes. So the next step is to associate with those of a divine nature and develop such qualities in ourselves, and avoid the demoniac. The demoniac can never approach God nor the spiritual world, but reach progressively lower forms of existence.

Chapter Seventeen, The Divisions of Faith. In this chapter Lord Krishna explains that there are different kinds of faith and religions depending on what level of the modes of material nature are displayed by the living being, such as goodness, passion or ignorance. Therefore, some religions will be more materialistic, based on ego, or the bodily identification and attachment and pride, while others will be more spiritual. So there is a difference between various religions, as explained in this chapter. They are not all the same, which sometimes people like to say. Lord Krishna describes the difference herein in a way we can clearly see the varieties and categories to which they belong. It is up to us to study this carefully to understand this.

So as we go along in our study of these chapters, we begin to see a pattern or repetition in these teachings. There is much knowledge on various aspects of life and spiritual understanding, but time and again Lord Krishna expresses that it is He who is the Supreme Being, the creator of the universe, and it is He who should be the center of our worship and meditation. Furthermore, all of this knowledge is meant to raise our consciousness so we can return to the spiritual world. That is what this is for. Lord Krishna repeats this in several chapters herein. This is not some kind of philosophy to contemplate, but it is an action plan for the benefit of humanity so we can directly attain a spiritual vision and perceive the spiritual reality all around us, up to the point in which we can enter that spiritual domain, which is our real home. The material world is temporary and can never give the joy we are seeking. This is why Lord Krishna is explaining all of this, to motivate us to act according to His directions and attain the realm of eternal happiness and bliss, which is our eternal and constitutional nature. And He summarizes this in the final chapter of Bhagavad-gita.

Chapter Eighteen, The Conclusion, The Perfection of Renunciation, or Yoga of Renunciation for Moksha–Liberation from Material Existence. Herein Lord Krishna explains the way to become spiritually perfect through the proper means of renunciation or detachment from activities, but also how to continue with prescribed duties. Yet, out of all we may do or practice, Lord Krishna finally concludes with the instructions on the ultimate way of perfecting one’s spiritual life and realize the highest truth, which is by performing devotional service, bhakti-yoga, and in this way rekindle one’s relationship with God and then reach the eternal and imperishable spiritual abode.

In this way, a person can cross over all obstacles of conditional life by Lord Krishna’s grace. Otherwise, a person will remain lost in the whirlpool of material existence. By surrendering unto Him, and then by His grace you can attain peace and the supreme abode. Lord Krishna then concludes that this is the most confidential of all knowledge given for your benefit. He instructs that if you think of Him, become His devotee, worship Him, just surrender unto Him, then you will be free from all sinful reactions and come to Him without fail.

It is further concluded that anyone who studies this conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna worships Lord Krishna with his or her intelligence. And simply by listening with faith to this conversation a person becomes free from sinful reaction and at least attains the planets of the pious.

So these are the basic instructions that are related in the Bhagavad-gita, and some of the benefits of studying it. So, in this way, a person can acquire proper direction in life, a deeper realization of one’s true identity, and attain a level of self-confidence and peace by inward reflection and realization that can never be reached through ordinary, materialistic studies or endeavors. Furthermore, these can be applied to assist us in all aspects of life to help bring us to our higher potential in everything we do, materially or spiritually. This is the power and the importance of the Bhagavad-gita and the instructions of Lord Krishna found within it.

Thank you very much,

Jai Sri Krishna.

YANTRAS: WHAT IS THEIR PURPOSE, by Stephen Knapp

            Yantras are generally geological designs imprinted on a copper or silver plate. These days we also see them in multi-colored inks on paper. Among the sacred symbols manifested by the Vedic Rishis, yantras are predominantly regarded as devices for devotional sadhanas or practices, and as objects to direct our mind and worship. These are used as tools for mental concentration and meditation. Keeping a specific yantra in a particular direction in the home, and worshiping it and concentrating upon it is said to have distinct auspicious effects. A mantra is the generator of specific currents of sublime sound and its perceivable manifestation; a yantra is a monogram – a spectrograph of this sonic energy. In terms of their spiritual effects, yantras are like schematic sketches of the contours or structures of divine energy fields.

Likewise the images of gods in the temples, yantras are revered and worshiped as symbols of divine powers. The Devi Bhagavat (3|26|21) states – Archabhave Tatha Yantram; meaning – a yantra symbolizes a divine power. Similar meanings are indicated in Naradiya Purana, Gautamiya Tantra, Yogini Tantra, and several other Vedic scriptures.

Yantras are also referred as the abodes of the divine powers of God, or of the deity that it represents. This is why most of the Vedic yantras are named after different divinities, such as, Ganesa-yantra, Sri-yantra, Gopala-yantra, etc. Each yantra needs to be installed with the use of particular mantras, similar to the temple installation of a deity. Which yantra is placed in which direction and how its worship and devotional sadhana is to be performed – the knowledge of these constitutes a science in itself that has linkage with the Vedic cosmology and sciences of mantra, Tantra, and Vastu.

A dot (.) in the cryptography of yantra symbolizes absoluteness, completeness. In terms of the manifestation of Nature in the universe, it is a symbol of the nucleus of cosmic energy and hence represents the power-source of all activities and motion. Its spiritual implication is pure knowledge, enlightenment, and ultimate realization. The expansions of a dot in circular forms, in a yantra, symbolize related expressions in varied forms. Combining the dots results in a triangle. Different lengths of the straight lines joining the dots, different angles between them, and the different triangular and other shapes generated thereby together with free dots, circles, straight, curvilinear, convergent, and divergent lines are the basic features/components of the structure of a yantra.

Everything that exists in the cosmos has some size and structure – perceivable or conceptualized – in subliminal, astronomical or intermediate dimensions. Even the invisible subtle entities have ‘shapes’ which could be ‘seen’ through mental eyes. The sagacious minds of the Vedic Age had deeper insight to ‘see’ the invisible or sublime elements of nature and express them in a universal language of symbols. They had thus invented a coding system of symbols, signs and alphabets (including digits) to represent the syllables of the seed mantras associated with the sublime fields of divine powers (devatas), natural tendencies of consciousness, emotional impulses in a being, etc; and the five basic elements (pancha-tatvas), their etheric vibrations and energy fields, and the states and motions of the enormous varieties of sub-atomic, atomic, and molecular structures generated thereby. Specific configurations of these codes were then incorporated in different yantras. Thus, by meditating on the yantras, and using particular mantras to invoke their potencies, would also awake higher powers within the mind and consciousness of the sadhaka, or practitioner, if done properly.

A brief description of some of the popular yantras is given below.

Shri Yantra: Through this yantra one attains the favor of Lakshmi and is never short of money. By reciting Lakshmi prayers to it everyday, one attains all benefits. Though there are many kinds of color variations those who are artistic like to make to the Sri Yantra, the best kind of Sri Yantra on which to meditate are those that are simply composed of the black and white lines, which enunciates the triangles in the yantra the best.

Shri Mahamrityunjay Yantra: This yantra protects one from destructive influences like accidents, crises, sickness, epidemic, and similar life-threatening calamities.

Baglamukhi Yantra: This is to overcome enemies or obstacles and gain favorable verdicts in legal cases.

Bisa Yantra: God helps those who have the Bisa yantra in all endeavors. All difficult things become easy. By praying to it every morning obstacles are overcome and one attains success and honor.

Kuber Yantra: This yantra makes Kuber, the god of wealth, benevolent.

Shri Kanakdhara Yantra: It helps in attaining wealth and dispelling poverty and ensures many blessings.

Shri Mahalakshmi Yantra: With prayers to this yantra one is assured of perpetual prosperity.

Surya Yantra: It promotes good health and well-being, protects one from diseases and promotes intellect.

Panchadashi Yantra: This yantra has the blessings of Lord Shiva and ensures morality, wealth, family happiness, and salvation.

Of all yantras the one that brings results the most quickly is the Shri yantra. With successful prayer and offerings, all the four basic human pursuits are attained, such as dharma – discharge of duty, artha – acquirement of wealth, kama – gratification and moksha – final emancipation. The Vedas say that 33 crore gods and goddesses reside in the Shri yantra. This yantra can also eliminate Vaastu shortcomings. The origin and development of the universe is depicted in this yantra.

The Durga Saptshati says: With worship the primordial power gives happiness, enjoyment, and pleasures of heaven.

There is a story pertaining to the origin of the Shri yantra. Once at Kailash Mansarovar, Adi Shankaracharya underwent great penance and pleased Lord Shiva. When Lord Shiva offered a blessing, Shankaracharya inquired whether universal welfare could be attained. In response, Lord Shiva gave him the Shri yantra, an embodiment of Lakshmi, along with the Shri Sukta mantra.

Shri yantra is the place of worship of goddess Bhagwati Mahatripura Sundari, an embodiment of Brahma. She resides in the circles. Her chariot as well as the subtle form and symbol is there. Any prayer offered to Rajeshwari (a monarch), Kameshwari (one who grants wishes) and Mahatripura Sundari without the Shri yantra brings no results. All gods and goddesses dependent upon Mahatripura Sundari reside in the Shri yantra.

Mahatripura Sundari has been referred to in religious texts with names like Vidya (knowledge), Maha Vidya (best knowledge) and Param Vidya (ultimate knowledge).

There is a story about the effectiveness of the Shri yantra. Once, unhappy with her visit to earth, Ma Lakshmi returned home to Vaikuntha. Due to her absence, many problems emerged on earth. Maharishi Vasishtha sought the help of Lord Vishnu to pacify Ma Lakshmi, without success. Then Devaguru Brihaspati explained that the best way to attract Lakshmi to the earth was through the Shri yantra. With worship of the Shri yantra, Ma Lakshmi immediately returned to earth and said, “Shri yantra is my foundation. My soul resides in it. Therefore, I had to return.”

Worship to Shri yantra after pran pratishtha ensures happiness and liberation. The best occasions to establish a Shri yantra are Diwali, Dhanteras (two days before Diwali), Dashera, Akshay Tritiya (the third day of the lunar fortnight) and Pratipada (the first day of the lunar fortnight) and other auspicious days. At the time of worship one must face the east and pray with devotion and concentration.

Swastika: Its Real Meaning

           The Swastika is a holy sign and symbol from thousands of years ago. Practically, the only symbol that is more important in the Vedic tradition is the Sanskrit Om Symbol. It is an ancient symbol and has been found on sculptures from the early excavations of Mohenjo-Daro. As explained at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika_origin_theories#Origin_hypotheses: “Beyond its certain presence in the “proto-writing” symbol systems emerging in the Neolithic period (9500 BC), nothing certain is known about the symbol’s origin.” Some historians also believe that ancient forts were built in the shape that closely resembled the Swastika for reasons of defense because it would be difficult for an enemy to invade all parts of a fort in this shape.

        Unfortunately, in the West, it has a negative connotation because of its use by the Nazis from 1935. At that time it was seen as a black cross on a white circle, and now, amongst some sections of society, it is viewed as a symbol that represents a radical perspective. But the real meaning of the symbol, before it was used by the Nazis in Germany, was very different.

        The Swastika appears as a cross with branches bent at right angles, pointing in a clockwise direction. In essence, it represents well-being for all, and the circular nature of its points represents the repetitive nature of reincarnation, and also indicates the all-pervasiveness of the Absolute and the eternal nature of the Brahman, the spiritual dimension. If you draw a circle around it, it also symbolizes the Sun-god, Surya, as the ultimate source of light, heat and the energy of the universe that flows in all directions. The four arms of the Swastika stand for the four main directions, namely North, South, East, and West. The central point of the Swastika also represents the navel of Lord Vishnu from which Lord Brahma originated. This also indicates the expanding nature of the universe from a central point. The Swastika also represents the constantly changing world which evolves around an unchanging center, which is God.

        The four branches of the Swastika represent the fourfold principles of divinity, which include: 1) Brahma, as the four-faced secondary creator of the universe who spreads the sacred knowledge in four directions; 2) the four Vedas, namely the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva; 3) the four aims of life or Purusharthas, namely, Dharma (righteousness or sacred duty), Artha (acquiring wealth), Kama (fulfilling desires), and Moksha (liberation from any further cycles of birth and death); 4) the four ashramas of life which make the latter possible, namely Brahmacharya (student life of self-control), Grihastha (house-holder life), Vanaprastha (retired), and Sannyasa (life of renunciation); and 5) the four Varnas, or Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra.

        The word of Swastika in Sanskrit is composed of two words, “Su” (good) and “Asati” (to exists) which means “May good prevail.” Therefore, it also represents happiness, and is often displayed at celebrations, cultural and religious ceremonies, and at weddings or festivals of the Vedic tradition. The Swastika also is a symbol of auspiciousness, peace and prosperity. Thus, making the Swastika in the rangoli style with multicolored powder at such events as births, marriages, or any joyous holiday, indicates the wish for everyone’s welfare. It also represents happiness, safety, fertility, and prosperity. 

        Other cultures also have high regard for the Swastika. The Buddhists consider it as the symbol of the genesis of all flora. Jains also draw the Swastika in front of their deities when making offerings to them. In antiquity, the swastika was used extensively by Hittites, Celts and Greeks, among others. It occurs in other Asian, European, African and Native American cultures ­ sometimes as a geometrical motif, sometimes as a religious symbol.          

        From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika we also learn: “The swastika was a widely used Native American symbol. It was used by many southwestern tribes, most notably the Navajo. Among different tribes the swastika carried various meanings. To the Hopi it represented the wandering Hopi clans; to the Navajo it represented a whirling log ( tsil no’oli’ ), a sacred image representing a legend that was used in healing rituals.”

        The Navajo used the symbol to represent whirling logs.  From http://nativeamericanjewelrytips.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/native-american-symbol-whirling-log-swastika/  it is explained that “Whirling Logs are used in Navajo sand paintings during a healing or other type of ceremony. A sand painting is supposed to be a temporary piece of art which is destroyed after the ceremony is over. However sand painting designs are also used in prints and framed paintings, rugs and on jewelry. The Whirling Log symbol is associated with a narrative involving a man (sometimes called the Culture Hero) who takes a journey down the San Juan River in a hollowed out log canoe. During his adventure, he encounters whirlpools and a special event where the San Juan River meets the Colorado River. There he comes upon a whirling cross with Yei figures seated on the cross. From the yeis he learns much knowledge which he takes back to his people.”

 
        For these reasons you can often find the Swastika in many places around the world, and especially across the Indian subcontinent either carved, drawn, painted, or sculpted into the architecture of homes, shops, businesses, and places of worship. Many Vedic temples in India are decorated with Swastikas, or are also configured in the shape of it. It is probably the most respected and prevalent symbol one will see in India. It is indeed the symbol of prosperity and well-being. Therefore, we should all understand the real meaning of this ancient symbol.

Sanatana-Dharma / Hinduism in a Nutshell, By Stephen Knapp

Some people think that Hinduism or Vedic culture is difficult to understand, but if you look at it succinctly, it is not very difficult at all. So this presents the essential principles in a concise way. Hinduism is also more correctly called by its Sanskrit name: Sanatana-Dharma. This, essentially, means to follow one’s eternal duty, which is to search for and understand our spiritual identity, and then to learn to live according to those eternal and spiritual characteristics, especially by one’s own spiritual realizations. This is also the purpose and mission of the Vedic philosophy and culture.  

The Vedic philosophy, or that which is based on the ancient Vedas and its supporting literature of India, is to help humanity understand who we really are, and the purpose of life. It is like the manual you get when you buy an appliance and need to understand exactly how it works. The Vedic literature is there to help all of us.

The essence of it comes down to 10 basic principles. These are the ones most accepted by the majority of people who follow Sanatana-dharma, and are also referenced in the Vedic texts. Beyond these, there are various schools of thought, which have further developments in their own outlook and philosophy, such as the Shaivites, Vaishnavas, Shaktas, Brahmanandis, Tantrics, and so on. These we can discuss at another time or you can read more about them in my books or website for further information.

In any case, the first code is: There is one Supreme Being, Bhagavan or God, with no beginning or end, the all in all, the unlimited Absolute Truth, who can expand into many forms. In this regard, the RigVeda (1:164:45) says: Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Vadanti. Though sages may call Him by different names, such as Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, etc., there is but one Absolute Truth, or one source and foundation of everything. God is considered Sat-chit-ananda vigraha, the form of eternal knowledge and bliss. He is supreme, full of beauty, knowledge, is all-powerful and all-pervading. He is also known by His three main features: namely Brahman, the all-pervading, impersonal spiritual force or effulgence; the Paramatma, the localized expansion known as the Supersoul which accompanies every individual soul in the heart of everyone; and then Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality and form of God.

The other principles are: (2) The Vedas are Divine knowledge and are the basis or foundation of the Vedic philosophy. Some of these texts have been given or spoken by God, and others were composed by sages in their deepest super conscious state in which they were able to give revelations of Universal Truths while in meditation on the Supreme. This Vedic literature, including, among other texts, the Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva Vedas, the Upa-Vedas, Vedangas, Shadarshanas, Upanishads, the Vedanta-Sutras, Yoga Sutras, Agamas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and Bhagavad-gita, and all Puranic literature and the practices congruent with them, contain the basis of the Vedic or Sanatana-dharma spiritual culture.

(3) God can and has appeared throughout history in the form of personal appearances (avataras) within the realm of matter, and even in the sound vibration of scriptures (the Vedic literature), and there are ten basic avataras of God, with numerous other expansions. (4) Our real identity is being a spirit soul, or jiva. (5) The soul undergoes it’s own karma, the law of cause and effect, by which each person must experience the results or consequences of his activities and creates his own destiny based on his thought, words and deeds. (6) There is also rebirth or reincarnation, wherein our next birth is directed by our karma. The soul incarnates through different forms until, by its own spiritual development, it reaches liberation (moksha) from the repetition of birth and death, when it attains its natural position in the spiritual domain. (7) We can elevate ourselves spiritually by also engaging in worship of the Divine, such as in His forms as deities in the temple. (8) We can receive proper instruction on how to follow the teachings of the Vedic philosophy from an authorized guru who is in line with a genuine parampara, or line of gurus. (9) We should also follow particular principles for our spiritual development, such as ahimsa or non-violence. (10) In our life there are four main goals, as indicated by the four ashramas of life, such as brahmacharya (the student’s life), the grihasta or the householder stage of life, the vanaprastha or retired stage of life in which we take our spiritual goals more seriously, and then the renounced or sannyasa stage of life in which our spiritual purpose is the main focus, culminating in attaining moksha or liberation from any further material existence.  

These ten principles expand to include several other additional points:

            1. The Vedic Tradition is more than a religion, but a way of life, a complete philosophy for the foundation and direction for one’s existence.

            2. It is based on Universal Spiritual Truths that can be applied by anyone at anytime.

            3. The Vedic tradition recognizes that the individual soul is eternal, beyond the limitations of the body, and that one soul is no different than another.

            4. All living entities, both human and otherwise, are the same in their essential and divine spiritual being. All of them are parts of the eternal truth, and have appeared in this world to express their nature and also to gather experience in the realms of matter.

            5. For this reason, Vedic followers accept the premise of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, that all living beings in the universe comprise one family, and that as such all beings are spiritually equal and should be respected as members within that family of the Supreme.

            6. The ultimate purpose of human life is to shed all attachments to matter and attain moksha (liberation from material existence) and return to the transcendental realm which is not only our true nature but also our real home.

            7. Every person’s capacity to progress spiritually depends upon their personal qualities, choices and abilities, and is not limited by the circumstances of one’s color, caste, class, or any other circumstance of birth or temporary material limitations or designations.

            8. The Vedic path is based on regaining our natural spiritual identity. To pursue this goal, all human beings have the eternal right to choose their personal form of spiritual practice, as well as the right to reject any form of religious activity, and that coercion, forced conversion, or commercial inducement to adopt one religion over another should never be used or tolerated to present, propagate, or enforce one’s spiritual beliefs on others.

9. The Vedic path offers personal freedom for one to make his or her own choice of how he or she wants to pursue their spiritual approach, and what level of the Absolute Truth he or she wishes to understand. This is the height of spiritual democracy and freedom from tyranny.

            10. Recognizing the value and sanctity of all forms of life, as well as the Eternal Divine Being that is their true Self, the Vedic principle is that we should therefore strive in every possible way to peacefully co-exist with all other species of living entities.

            11. The Vedic path consists of ten general rules of moral conduct. There are five for inner purity, called the yamaswhich include satya or truthfulness, ahimsa or non-injury to others and treating all beings with respect, asteya or no cheating or stealing, brahmacharya or celibacy, and aparighara or no unnecessarily selfish accumulation of resources for one’s own purpose. The five rules of conduct for external purification are the niyamas—such as shaucha or cleanliness and purity of mind and body, tapas or austerity and perseverance, swadhyaya or study of the Vedas and self-analysis, and santosh or contentment, as well as Ishwara-pranidhana, or acceptance of the Supreme.

            12. There are also ten qualities that are the basis of dharmic (righteous) life. These are dhriti (firmness or fortitude), kshama (forgiveness), dama (self-control), asteya (refraining from stealing or dishonesty), shauch (purity), indriya nigraha (control over the senses), dhih (intellect), vidya (knowledge), satyam (truth) and akrodhah (absence of anger).

             These principles are part of the eternal, universal truths that apply equally to all living entities who can use them for progress regardless of class, caste, nationality, gender, or any other temporary qualifications. These basic principles, as we can see, are not so difficult to understand and are the basis of the Vedic spiritual life.

[This is available at http://www.stephen-knapp.com]