Mindful Maha Shiva Rathri

Thoughts on the purpose of Maha Shiva Rathri, other than the ritualistic aspect of it. We celebrate a lot of rituals but the purpose behind them is nearly forgotten, leaving them meaningless. But they are not without purpose, just that we don’t do it mindfully. This article ponders about the same and urges to follow through mindfully.

To view this article in Tamil, please visit – http://www.gnanaboomi.com/spiritual-practices-of-sanatana-dharma-sivarathri

Gnana Boomi wishes everyone a blessed Maha Shiva Rathri

The vigils of Sanatana Dharma has greater meaning and purpose beneath them. From the surface, it looks like a mere ritual, to stay awake throughout the night and pray. But if we start to look beyond the surface, it’s wonderful. Let us start such a remarkable revelation, right from the surface.

You have been told, keep upavasa, or eat just once in a day today and stay awake throughout the night & pray. You wonder how is that possible yet decide to do it. In a little while, the activity of the body and mind comes down due to hunger. One starts to feel (real) hunger and compassion towards the hunger-struck fellow beings. If it is any other day, we may react totally different, but when the mind is ‘set with the right expectation’, it adapts. The brain sends the appropriate signals to the body. The otherwise “hard to tame” mind starts to slow down. Further more, the amazing forefathers of the Vedic Dharma tells us repeatedly that with the will power and a trained mind, one can start gaining control over it. It coils down to ‘one’ default thought and as a natural phenomenon, it wants to roll back to its original being. But the original being of mind is not being at all, as per the Shashtras and Upanishads. But we haven’t reached that state yet, and the mind must keep itself alive, so it clings to one thought. The thought of ‘today is an auspicious day, a divine one etc’ with the surroundings echoing the same vibes, it starts repeating the name of the Lord ‘Hara Hara Mahadeva, Shambho, Shiva Shambho’, Om Namah Shivaya… and so on.

The mind follows the body and the body follows the mind, hand in hand.

There is a saying that when one puts his heart and soul to something, it starts revealing itself to him. Instead of running behind the mind and its thought-current, you train it to revert to a default point, say, a Ishta Devata (the God to which one prays more – wikipedia), the process becomes smooth. It runs, you let it run, don’t control but remember the default point and it comes back, only to run away. This goes on and the result of this game varies between individuals but it is said that eventually, one gets the ability to find ‘that a thought is about to rise’ even before it rises. This process further continues to evolve to a point where there is no thought and THAT, the Vedic Dharma says is the perfect state to be in. The Maha Shiv Rathri is one such great night to do this Sadhana or spiritual practice. Just like how its easy to sail with the wind, the condition favors the mind during these days. Moreover, you get to rise up the benchmark by performing this practice by keeping a vigil, to stay awake and to keep your mind fixed on a thought / purpose.

First of all, it beats down all the generalizations of hunger, sleep hours etc and proves the ability to stretch oneself from what is “believed” to be normal can and can’ts – even for one night. You might have observed this. For instance, on a day that is special to you, be it your birthday, anniversary etc, you walk around and everything looks special. The day is normal for others but you feel special on that day. Everything is in the mind, they say and we can’t agree more.

Repetition has power. Ask your martial arts guru and they would vouch for it. The punch given out after tremendous practice can break down bricks. The same goes with the thought. Staying awake in the night already makes one feel a little imbalanced and the mind is trained to think nothing but one, and eventually, the repetition gains control. We all remember the story of Sage Valmiki uttering just Mara Mara which turned out to be the most wonderful Rama taraka mantra. Practice makes permanent. The researchers of brain confirms that repetition of thought triggers the brain to send out pulses repeatedly and upon every repetition, the frequency goes stronger and stronger, thereby making a physical or hotline link between “thought and action”. There are numerous tests conducted in this area. We are just amazed as to how intuitively this is interwoven in to our daily culture, to repeat the name of the divine and cleanse yourself! Repeat the act of good thinking and purify yourself!

But what is in performing a set of ritual to an image or a stone? The stone is not God! Thank you, and even the Hindus know that. To the untrained mind, an object of focus is highly recommended and any teacher would confirm this. A sweet example narrated by the Vedanta Academy of Madras is that of helping a man view the crescent moon which is not so obvious in the sky with the help of a branch. He is not able to see where the moon is, he is asked if he can see the huge tree beneath. He ridicules, just like how the stone worshippers are being ridiculed, and says he could see it obviously. He is pointed further towards the edge of a top most branch and he could do it very easily. Now he is told to look a few degrees to the left, upwards and lo! There is the moon!

Courtesy: http://pix.alaporte.net/pub/d/10646-1/Branches+and+Crescent+Moon+1.JPG
The branch is just an aid to see the moon and it is NOT the moon!

Now there is no relation to the moon and the branch, at least for this example, but without the branch, it could’ve been very difficult for him to locate the moon. The same goes with the stone image worship. We all know that the stone is not God, literally, but we know that God pervades, permeats everything and He is also in that stone. We keep this as a point of focus and perform the rituals, by showing the love and devotion, as if He is right there in front of us!

The corporate buzzword for this age-old technique is “visualizing and believing”. There is a couple of wise phrases about this fact:

மரத்தை மறைத்தது மாமத யானை – மரத்தில்
மறைந்தது மாமத யானை

When one looks at the image of a wooden elephant as an elephant, then the wood is not seen, and look at it as a wood, the elephant is not seen.

கல்லைக் கண்டால் நாயைக் காணோம் – நாயைக்
கண்டால் கல்லைக் காணோம்

The above phrase is totally mistaken and taken literally where they associate it similar to that of murphy’s law that when you have a stone to throw, there is no dog and when there is dog, you get no stone. But in actual sense the phrase means just like that of the elephant’s.

Every single act in the name of ritual has a deep purpose behind it and most of them is to train the mind, to descend beyond the senses and to realize the self. When the mere rituals are performed mindfully, the only recommended method, one starts to understand the deeper meaning behind them. It is no longer an object to ridicule, but the most effective system, a “way of life” that is down to earth, applicable to one and all, surpassing ages together and still going stronger. Take the mindfulness out of it, it is absurd to the untrained mind. Hence it is important to know the purpose behind every ritual and to do it mindfully.

A good example of the absence of mindfulness is the festival of Ganesh Chathurthi. It is a festival which is celebrated with great pomp. Sadly, it has become a commercialized hype with its true purpose hidden, not gone but. The main ingredient of that function is clay through which the Ganesha murthi is made. The idea is availability and affordability. In those days, it was easily available and free for everyone, just pick up the clay in river bed and if you are good at clay-art, you get to do it yourself. Then comes the grass called Arukam Pul (pul-grass) which grows by itself in most places, auspicious for Ganesha. The modern world has made everything costly where even sand is not spared. The idol of Ganesha in various forms and sizes sells like hot-cake. But with no mindfulness, we started buying the idol made of clay, plaster of paris and what not!

The symbolic representation of the clay getting mixed in to the water at the end (visarjan) is to represent the oneness of Jivatma with the Paramatma, or to realize one’s own self. It makes sense to dissolve it in water, which eventually makes the sand fertile. This is also taken literally where we joyfully gather to pollute the water bodies with all sorts of chemicals that the idols are painted with. We burst crackers, make noise and everything, but the purpose, when done with mindfulness, is the most simplistic one.

A wise teacher back in those good old days use to share his knowledge to a handful of students. There lived a cat in the hermitage which used to roam around freely in his house. On seeing the students getting distracted because of the cat, the Guru ordered one of his disciple to tie-up the cat in a pillar next to their class room. This helped the students focus on the class and days went by. Two successors came after the Guru and the third one said to his students: “bring a cat and tie it up, that’s how the class use to start – we must follow our tradition”!!

Just as ridiculous as it sounds, this is the exact condition of how the rituals are being followed, they are being celebrated more than being followed, at least to a greater extent. Let us be aware of the purpose and follow a ritual mindfully and derive its true benefit. Bursting crackers or arranging cultural programmes that deviates from the true purpose is no different than going to a movie to stay awake in the Shiva Rathri night.

Let us ask right questions to get right answers. Let us all be mindful of our thoughts and actions for we are the cause of our effects and are directly and solely responsible as well. Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides!

Om Namah Shivaya!