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Our Source of Nourishment

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          Continuing our series of essays on Mahamritunjaya mantra, we now turn out attention to the line sughandhim pushtivardhanam. Here sugandhim means fragrant, or literally, good smell. Some commentators connect the word sugandhim with tryambak, i.e. it is the Lord who is fragrant, while others connect it with yaj, referring to the fragrance emanating from the sacrifice. In either case, gandha or smell brings us to the earth element and the muladhara (first) chakra. After starting the mantra at the ajna (third eye) and crown chakras, abode of Shiva ,we now move to muladhara, the abode of kundalini shakti. This chakra is also the home of Ganesha, whose long, curling trunk reminds us of his connexion both with the sense of smell and with the coiled serpent power. Sugandhim roots the mantra deep in our own body, the guttural sound of gandha drawing us into our core.

             Pushtivardhanam is the increaser of nourishment .We can see in this line the fragrance of sacrifice which brings rain and thus food. We can also see Shiva, the inner Self, as sugandhim pushtivardhanam , the one who provides all our nourishment of body, mind and spirit. In the Lord’s Prayer in Christian tradition we first evoke the Heavenly Father and then sanctify his Name, that is the shekhina or immanent feminine aspect. In the same way, in this mantra we first call forth the transcendent Shiva and then evoke Shakti, the indwelling feminine aspect. And then, just as in the Lord’s Prayer we ask for our daily bread, we now call upon the divine gift of nourishment in the line pushtivardhanam. It is a moment of humility, recalling that all gifts, even life itself, come from the only giver. And humility, literally meaning nearness to earth, is the gift of the Earth element.

          The increaser of nourishment is Lord Shiva, bestower of food security. Shiva’s connexion with deer recalls the time when we implored him to give us the knowledge of the deer, our source of food. Yet just as in the Shiva Puranas, the hunter who worships Shiva eventually gives up his hunting life, we became agrarian beings. And so, seeing Shiva as the rider on the bull, his mount Nandi, we realize that we depend upon him for the fertility of field and herds. Today, with genetically engineered terminator seeds and over-bred cattle languishing on feedlots, we are on the verge of losing the precious food security gained over millennia. One person in six alive today is going to bed hungry. Because we have made food a commodity instead of a sacred gift, because we rely upon agribusiness and not upon the Divine, our arrogance and greed are causing us to throw away heedlessly what we gained through long centuries of devotion and humility.

        From a yogic standpoint, there is another meaning for sughandhim pushtivardhanam. Shiva, the three eyed Lord, our own true nature, nourishes us with bliss molecules, feeds our spirit with enlightenment. When we attain the state of tryambak, when our three channels are open and flowing, we receive the true nourishment, of which Jesus spoke when he said to his disciples, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”

      And as we realize our true nature we also become sughandhim pushtivardhanam—we ourselves become increasers of nourishment. From the miracle of feeding the five thousand to stories of Neem Karoli Baba told in Miracle of Love, there are numerous accounts of how enlightened beings could feed innumerable people with just a little food. On one occasion at Alandi Ashram we cooked for fifteen and thirty five people arrived. “Cover the pot and serve without looking in it,” I told my fellow server. We served everyone and had plenty left over. Generosity is a divine quality and manifests in feeding the hungry. We can also express the state of sughandhim pushtivardhanam by giving knowledge to feed minds, giving love to feed hearts and giving spiritual teachings to feed souls. As long as we remain humble understanding that everything comes from the Divine, we ourselves can actualize the state of fragrant increaser of nourishment for all beings. 

A Song from Ma's Heart

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Ma’s Song

I do not make my abode

On the lofty mountain peaks

For the way of ice and snow

Is not my way.

I have pitched my tent beside you, friend,

In the valley of human experience.

Bring me your tender joys

And I will feed them corn

From my own hands

And take delight as they chirp beside my door.

Give me your mewing sorrows;

I will cradle and stroke them lovingly,

For they are mine.

I hang your tears

As prayer flags in the breeze,

I wear your smiles,

A garland on my breast.

Let me iron the creases of perplexity

And sweep the dust of confusion from your heart.

I will untie your heavy boots of weariness

And worship them on the altar of our longing.

 I pour myself into your thirsty cup,

Offer my grief as ointment for your wounds.

The ringing of your laughter and your cries

Has called me to this holy pilgrimage.

I have come to you from the lofty mountain peaks

For the way of ice and snow is not my way.

The Meaning of Sacrifice

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Continuing with our discussion of mahamritunjaya mantra or Healing Mantra…

Om tryambakam yajamahai

We have discussed the meaning of tryambak and now can look at yaj—sacrifice. “We sacrifice to the three-eyed Lord.” What does it mean to sacrifice to the Three-eyed Lord? This can be understood according to the four levels of interpretation.

On the literal level, mahamritunjaya is a mantra designed to be used in homa or fire ceremonies. Here at Alandi Ashram we do healing copper pyramid fires using this mantra for world peace and healing. According to the Vedas, the earth is the abode of the sacrificial fire, humanity is the sacrificial priest, and through such rituals we renew the earth and our own souls. Fire is the messenger of the gods and carries our prayers to them. Fire is the mouth of the gods, devouring the oblations of food grains and ghee and leaping high in response to our offerings.  “From rain comes food, from sacrifice comes rain.” (Bh. Gita 3, 14). Our offerings into fire restore the natural order and balance the climate. Once my friend Sita Sharan was made to stop during a fire ceremony by the fire department. “No rain, no fire,” they told her. She responded, “That’s funny. We say ‘no fire, no rain.”

On the next level of interpretation, the moral level, sacrificing to the three-eyed Lord means letting go of negative qualities such as greed and selfishness, and developing positive qualities reflective of the nature of Shiva. We offer our negativity into the fire of the Divine, allowing that fire to burn away the dross and let the pure gold of our true nature manifest. We can do this through various forms of tapas (austerity) such as asana and pranayama, which generate a literal fire or heat within us, purifying our subtle body. We can also do this in a very simple way by setting aside some of our time to serve others instead of pursuing our own pleasure and by giving some of our income to help those in need. “One who does not follow on earth the turning wheel of sacrifice is a thief and living a useless life.” (Bh. Gita 3, 16).

On the third or symbolic level of interpretation we look at the big picture of sacrifice within each of the four Ages of history. In the Age of Taurus (approximately 6,000-4,000 years ago) we offered human sacrifice. In the Age of Aries (4,000-2,000 years ago) we offered animal sacrifice, beginning from the moment Abraham went up on the mountain to sacrifice his firstborn son and instead sacrificed a ram, the symbol of Aries. In the Age of Pisces we offer the sacrifice of words through prayer and recitation of mantras. And in the dawning Age of Aquarius—although we still need to continue prayer and chanting as a direct means of purifying the heart—we sacrifice our individualism into altruism.

Finally on the spiritual level of interpretation, we sacrifice our limited identity into the boundless truth, realizing our true nature. To sacrifice ahamkar, or the “I am the body consciousness” seems to us to be very difficult, and yet it is really the sacrifice of nothing. As Anandamayi Ma, a great saint of India, said, “You are all supreme renunciants because you have renounced the Supreme.” This ultimate level cannot be spoken in words, especially in prose. And for the bhaktas (those on the path of devotion) such as myself, there is no end to the sweet play of lover and beloved. “Those who worship Me with devotion, I am in them and they are also in me.”  (Bh. Gita 9, 29). This is the sacrifice of love and devotion which transcends even the sacrifice of knowledge

Lord Shiva's Three Eyes

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The Inner Meaning of Aum Tryamabakam

This is the first in a series of posts exploring the meaning of mahamritanjaya mantra, which we chant at Monday night Shiva bathing, and the process of Shiva bathing. Actually, I gave this talk in my dream last night.

Tryambak means having three eyes. These three eyes are the three ways of perceiving the world. Two of these eyes correspond to the Relative view and the third to the Absolute view. The right eye is that aspect of the Relative view which splits the world into its components, analyzes, judges and compares. This view corresponds to the left brain and to the pingala, the solar channel and has an objective character. It is also seen as the masculine view and relates to the planet Mars, which carries the sword of separation. This view is crucial to our correct understanding of the relative world. For example, we would need this view to conduct business, negotiate a loan, organize an office and many necessary functions. However, this view does correspond to the tamas guna or mode of ignorance. So beware of the root poison of hatred and aversion when you are using this view. We need good judgement but not judgementalism, critique but not criticism, discrimination but not prejudice.

The left eye is that aspect of the Relative view which is holistic and intuitive. It takes a subjective, symbolic and emotional view of world, seeing the connection between things. The left eye has a creative and playful perception. This view corresponds to the right brain and to the ida, the lunar channel. It has a feminine characteristic and also relates to the planet Venus, which holds the mirror of reflection. We need this view in order to write poetry, play with children or participate meaningfully in rituals and ceremonies. Yet this view does correspond to the rajas guna or mode of passion. Think of the moon card in Tarot. This view can deceive us and lead us astray though excess subjectivity just as surely as the right eye’s view can distort reality through reductionism and fragmentation. When you are using this view, watch out for the root poison of desire which can carry us away and leave us lost and bewildered.

Between the two is the Transcendent View of the Third Eye. The Third Eye does not reveal the phenomenal world with its multiplicity of forms. That is the job of the two eyes. This is the ‘single eye’ which ‘fills the whole body with light’ as Jesus said. This eye cannot see the relative world; it perceives instead the vast expanse of reality. It is connected with the third ventricle of the brain—the Inner Space—and with the sushumna or central channel. This view does correspond with the sattva guna or mode of purity, because we need to move into purity and go beyond ignorance in order to access this view. Yet the transcendent view by definition transcends the three gunas, all of which are part of the phenomenal world.

Tryambak is not an external being but our own true nature when our third eye is activated to see the Transcendent View and our two eyes are purified to see the relative world without aversion or desire. Jiva is Shiva; the personal self is the supreme self. By attaining the state of the Three Eyed Shiva, although we may still have to endure disease due to karma, we will spontaneously heal all illnesses due to stress and confusion. This is the blessing of mahamritanjaya mantra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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