June 3rd 2019
I have decided to record daily reflections on how I connect to the world around me, the sacred relationship that I have with nature, with other people, with various beings, and how my cultural, religious, as well as spiritual belief system encourages social, psychological, mental, ecological, and physical well-being. Could not have started on a more auspicious day. Today is June 3rd 2019. It is a Monday. Very innocuous on the face of it. ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’, went that song by Carpenters, where they were made to cry! Most people do that even today, blaming others, groaning about getting up, to face yet another week ahead, with the same chores, same bores at work, but to me today is special since I have decided that it shall be so. I shall consciously link myself to the grand esoteric truths around me, with studied intention, I shall drive away the angst that entwines people who are socialized into thinking so. So what did I do first thing this morning?
For months now I have made it a habit to NOT jump out of bed with a start, but be a bit more meditative, to take my time to rub my hands in glee (am alive another day!), chant ‘karaagre vasate lakshmi’, and then think of all the burden that Bhudevi faces, hence ask her forgiveness before stepping on her with, ‘samudra vasane devi..’. To this ritual I’ve added a page of Valmiki’s Ramayana before I do anything else – not even a glass of water. Unfortunately, it is in English that I read, having been robbed of a normal Hindu education by Lord Macaulay since the late 1800s. This is Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati ji’s commentary, my spiritual guru, of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, hence it is not deracinated as most other English commentaries are.
Now that I am up, I will go to the altar post ablutions, chant my favourite mantras, do pooja, offer naivedyam, do some basic soorya namaskaara asanas, quickly do 108 kapalabhatis and get ready for the day. Especially breakfast! Chanting makes one very hungry, the stomach starts to rumble – but it also makes one smart – read this for yourself here in this Scientific American article. Anyway, I chant not for the benefits but because I love to. That it provides mental and physiological benefits is incidental. That not many women know how to chant mantras anymore, that this knowledge was lost to women for centuries due to Islamic invasions and British colonization is no secret, but what is probably not widely known is that now there are many teachers willing to teach, yet they are very few takers! After all when Oracle becomes a computer language from a Greek prediction, it is no wonder that most modern women would rather be in IT than in a chanting group on weekend. The chanting takes me about an hour or so.
Now breakfast is not a hurried affair as in most households, I like to eat well, eat piping hot food, and in silence. A throwback to my ancestry I suppose. Food is sacred as is everything and everybody for a practicing Hindu. When I cook I chant hymns, so that the food is infused with good energy, and then without tasting at all, all through the cooking process, I offer the cooked food first to the deities, to my gurus, to the beings around me, and only then can I eat; ‘praaNaaya svaahaa…’. Even when I eat this food that goes in is feeding the devata inside, the agni devata – jaTharaagni. And I eat in silence because I savour each morsel that will be transformed into my body, my muscle, my blood, my thoughts, my excreta. This food is sustaining me and all the forces around me, for this I am grateful! So I chant, ‘brahmaarpaNam‘ before a meal. Sharing food with neighbours and animals is a bit tough in USA, you can’t just randomly offer food to just anybody here, although I have done that in flights too and was politely refused, so I have devised my own way. I store the first morsel of my meal, without tasting, in a small bottle, and at a very ‘convenient time’, leave the same for the squirrels, birds, and other creatures near a tree! This is like bird feed except that it is not just for the birds! Hindus in Bali prepare elaborate plates of offerings called the Canang sari, and leave it outside their homes, as do Thais in their altars at the entrance of their houses.. More about the philosophy behind it called pancha mahaa yajna in another post.
What I usually eat is hot idlis or dosas, probiotics! Yes! The ingredients are rice and urad dal, soaked, ground, left overnite, made into pancakes with sesame oil the next day…so the whole process takes 3 days from start to finish, but this is the US, so we just buy store bought batter, and the cooking time is only 15 mins from start to finish after that! You get a variety of ingredients now – Ragi, 9 Grain, Mung Dal batter – all very Ayurveda friendly, which I can talk about in depth later.
But today is Shani Amavasya, also called Somavati Amavasya! Very special because Shani’s birthday is on a Monday. Shani or Saturn is the son of Soorya, the Sun God, he usually causes difficulties for people and is a hard task master, teaching them via tough love. He has been causing a bit of a pain in my life too and am thinking a bit of propitiating might help my case. Mondays are my fasting days anyway, I also like to keep ‘mauna vrata’ on these days, since there is no energy left to talk, engage in banter, when there is no food intake. If am working from home it is easier but if I am outside, or in office, I avoid initiating conversations and cut conversations beyond basics. I have seen that I am loathe to speak on Tuesday after a whole 36 hours of vocal silence. I am still emailing, texting, mentally chatting with myself…which is something I need to work on.
Anyways, here I am not eating, not speaking, and wondering how best to celebrate Shani’s birthday. Since it is a no moon day, it is a day traditionally dedicated to ancestral worship which occurs fortnightly on every new moon and full moon. Feeding someone, offering help, charity, daanam is considered appropriate. Since there was no cooking happening dropping off food – rice, beans, sauces, at the local food shelter was the next best alternative. In the name of one’s pitris, just as Mexicans do during their ‘Day of Dead’, we offer food and drink at altars so that the dear departed are remembered and thanked for giving us life and knowledge. When we value tradition, lineage, ancestors, ancients this way, we remain rooted in this manner, we feel watched over, looked after.
Twice a day bath is a must, although I make sure not to waste too much water and to be mindful of conserving renewable resources, water is one of the five divine forces, pancha bhoota, that helps me in cleansing, I recognize this with a prayer each time I shower, ‘gange cha yamune devi…’. After I am purified of all the dirt and delusions that I have accumulated through the day, I sit down for my evening pooja, it is a great de-stresser after a whole day at work, trust me! Offering the five elements back to the deities, expressing one’s gratitude to the elemental forces is one of highlights of my daily routine. Flowers for worship are aesthetic, pleasing and fragrant depicting the prithvi tatvam, teertham represents the jala tatvam, deepam, and arati are agni tatvam, dhoop stands in for vaayu tatvam, and finally chanting which represents sound is an example for ether, sound is primeval, first there was sound! It is when the microcosm that is me – my body mind complex has a chance to actively make friends with the macrocosm which is but my scaled up imprint do I feel in tune with the whole, no longer alienated.
Again cooking is not just for me to fill my stomach but also to feed the deities, the rishis, the pitris, the beings around me, so cooking is not something we do for a party once in a while, or because ‘I enjoy cooking’, but because it is connected to the ritual of giving, of sharing, of feeding, of being in a position of a contributor as my guru would say, a house is not a home if the kitchen fires are not burning everyday he would add. For a while I cooked a rice cooker pot of khichDi – rice, lentils, veggies, nuts, spices and oil, at work during break, and fed my colleagues and myself, which felt good because sharing of food in enjoined in our shashtras – Taittiriya Upanishad, The Bhagavad Geeta, the Ramayana, Mahabharata, all talk of annadaanam as a great ideal, that which must be done on a daily basis, food was never sold till recently, say a 100 odd years ago, it was considered paapam – an act for which you accrue bad merit, en cashed at a later stage. The idea that annam is brahman, that the ultimate is contained in a grain of rice, a la Blake’s ‘..the world in a grain of sand’, is telling of a culture that holds food, cooking, and feeding at a premium.
Usually my dinner diet is 2 parathas – of wheat, or other carbohydrates with a koora prepared in the Telugu style. I avoid curd/ yogurt at night as this increases phlegm in the body, I also avoid greens at night…these instructions came from my mother, who learnt all this from HER mother who learnt this from…plus Ma studied nutrition in India, which covers a lot of Ayurvedic principles too.
Finally, to rest! But not without taking Swaminiji’s online Vedanta class first 9.00pm to 10.00 pm is Swaminiji’s class on Satashloki by Vidyaranya. Vedanta has a special place in my heart, it has helped me overcome subjectivity and through that most of the subjectivity lead issues such as depression, worry, anxiety, fear, insecurity. Hence whenever I get a chance to study ‘live’ either in person or online I take it up. Vedanta like all classical Hindu traditions is taught by a guru who embodies what they teach, hence once you have found a guru that fits/suits you, stick around and notice the Cognitive Behavioral Therapeutic change that takes place in your mind, we will start to notice how we can experientially transform our lives via yoga, meditation, chanting, prayer, eating right, doing right, and ultimately via connecting to all that is around us without feeling alienated – a huge problem in today’s fast paced world.
I close my eyes with a chant, ‘raamaskandam…’ and bid adieu to the day that went past, assured of a day well spent. Without gossip or unnecessary chatter, without ill will to any one, without envy, jealousy, greed or delusion. But Alas! I did lose my temper, my cool, a few times and THAT I must manage more in the future.