Hindu Temple of Atlanta, diversity, Nartana Ritau

Bodhinatha reviews last year's visit to the Siva Temple of Atlanta and preparation for this year's visit, He presents the topics of solidarity and diversity then quotes from scriptures and Hindu religious leaders to illustrate that Siva and Vishnu are One. Hinduism is a family of religions with four principle denominations yet all worship a One Supreme Being. Bodhinatha then describes the three ritau of the year with emphasis on Nartana Ritau, family planning being an important activity during this time.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone. Happy New Year. Happy New Ritau. We're preparing some talks for our Memorial Day weekend at the end of May visit to Hindu Temple of Atlanta. We went there last year as you may recall and they're unique in the Hindu temples in North America in that they've built two large size temples fairly close to one another. The original one is for Venkateswara and the new one is for Siva under the name Ramalingeswara. So they have a two temples, Balaji and a Siva temple right next to each other and separate. Which is a nice statement in itself so anyway I'll read part of the talk. This part is, it's in the middle, didn't want to read the whole thing because it's, you've heard part of it before, even part of this you've heard before but it's part of a larger talk on Hindu solidarity. So it draws on our Hindu solidarity editorial, the idea of which is that by unity and diversity the Hindus standing together want to maintain their diverse traditions despite the fact that there are those who say we shouldn't. You know we should all adopt the Baghavad Gita as our main scripture and we should all worship the same Deities and so forth. That's the only way Hinduism will be powerful and understood. A unity in oneness. So Gurudeva of course said no, that would take all the power out of Hinduism. Hinduism's power lies in it's diverse traditions so we need to have a Hinduism with diversity. So it's part of that talk.

Speaking again of our visit to this temple last May, we were greatly impressed by the fact that on many evenings the Vaishnava priests would help in the Siva ceremonies and vice versa. The smooth, harmonious working together of the Vaishnava and Saiva priests and the Siva and Venkateswara devotees was uplifting and encouraging, showing how well these two traditions are able to cooperate and blend their energies, without giving up their distinct beliefs and customs.

There are many scriptures in Hinduism and unfortunately one category of secondary scripture, the Puranas, can be used as the basis for clashes and disagreements between worshippers of Vishnu and worshippers of Siva. This is because the Puranas give us some stories where Vishnu is superior to Siva and other stories where Siva is superior to Vishnu.

There is a verse in the Saivite Scripture 'Tirumantiram' that addresses this problem: andquot;Though the three, Brahma Vishnu and Siva form an integral whole the world considers them separate and quarrels.andquot;

On a visit a few months ago to London, this is written to be read at the end of May so it was actually just last week. [laughs] On a visit a few months ago to London we were invited to speak at the Neasden temple of the BAPS Swaminarayan fellowship. They of course are staunch Vaishnavas and thus it is unusual for them to invite a Saivite swami to speak at their weekly satsang. However, they know us well and trust that we will convey an appropriate message.

One of the major points included in my talk was that we share a mutual respect and tolerance for each other's traditions and mentioned that unfortunately such respect and tolerance does not always exist between Vaishnavites and Saivites, between worshippers of Vishnu and worshippers of Siva.

I then went on to elaborate by saying that In their scripture the Shikshapatri, their founder Bhagwan Swaminarayan states: andquot;The Vedas proclaim Narayan and Shiv as one and as Brahmaswarup, God's true nature, and, therefore, they should be known accordingly. Bhagwan Swaminarayan also enjoins his devotees: andquot;In the month of Shravan, they shall worship or engage the services of pious Brahmin devotees to worship Shiv with Bilva-patras and the like.andquot; And finally he indicates his devotees shall fast on Shivratri and celebrate this festival with great reverence.andquot; And of course, on the physical and visible side there is also a side shrine to Shiva in their Mandir.

I then mentioned that in our founder's writings, Gurudeva makes this statement on religious tolerance that: andquot;Saivites profoundly know that God Siva is the same supreme being in whom peoples of all faiths find solace, peace and liberation.andquot; Gurudeva also says: andquot;Siva's devotees, with hearts as big as the sky, love and accept Smarta, Sakta and Vaishnava Hindus as brothers and sisters, even if not accepted by them, and keep harmony by not discussing differences.andquot; Also in our temple we have a side shrine with the image of Shankaranarayana, He's up, up here I can't see him, half Siva, half Vishnu, which of course symbolizes the unity of Siva and Vishnu.

A prominent Smarta Hindu leader, Swami Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society, also speaks of the oneness of Siva and Vishnu in his book 'Lord Siva and His Worship.' He begins by explaining that there is a temple in the Tirunelveli district of Tamilnadu called the Sankaranarayanar Koil where the idol has one half of it depicted as Siva and the other half as Vishnu.

To quote Swamiji: andquot;The inner significance of this is that Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu are one.andquot; Shri Sankara also has said in very clear terms that Siva and Vishnu are the one all pervading Soul. andquot;On one occasion, a Virasaivite entered the temple in Sankaranarayanar Koil to worship the Lord.andquot; This is a classic story. andquot;He offered incense. He plugged the nostrils of Vishnu with the cotton as the fumes were entering His nose also. After that a Vira Vaishnavite entered the temple and he also offered incense. He plugged the nostrils of Siva as the fumes were entering His nose also. Such is the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of sectarians. A devotee should have a large, broad heart. He must see his chosen deity in all aspects of the Lord and in all forms.andquot; Swami Sivananda then states: andquot;Siva and Vishnu are one and the same. They are essentially one and the same.andquot;

In another portion of the book Swami Sivanada has an interesting explanation of why the various puranas extol one deity over another. To quote him: andquot;Vishnu Purana glorifies Vishnu and in some places gives a lower position to Siva. Siva Purana glorifies Siva and gives a lower status to Vishnu. This is only to instill and intensify devotion for the respective deity in the hearts of the devotees. In reality, no deity is superior to another. You must understand the heart of the writer.andquot;

Swami Sivananda concludes by saying: andquot;May you all realize the oneness of Siva and Vishnu. May you all be endowed with pure subtle intellect and proper understanding.andquot;

By these statements of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami and Swami Sivananda we can see clearly that enlightened Hindu leaders of Vaishnavite, Saivite and Smarta traditions all stress the essential unity of Siva and Vishnu.

The October 2003 issue of our magazine Hinduism Today has an important eight page article on the four denominations of Hinduism from which I would like to quote. andquot;Hinduism is a family of religions with four principle denominations--Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism. This single perception is essential for understanding Hinduism and explaining it accurately to others. Contrary to prevailing misconceptions Hindus all worship a one Supreme Being though by different names. For Vaishnavites, Lord Vishnu is God. For Saivites, God is Siva. For Shaktas, Goddess Shakti is supreme and for Smartas the choice of deity is left to the devotee.andquot; The article goes on to compare the four denominations in terms of their history, beliefs, practices and scriptures and is quite informative. We also reprinted the article as a separate pamphlet for use in classrooms as a teaching tool in presenting the topic of Hinduism's four main denominations.

The Hindu Temple of Atlanta is making an important contribution to the clarity of Hinduism in the US by having separate temples for Balaji and Siva. In the traditional Hindu temple, the main sanctum is for the Supreme Being. Balaji is the supreme being to Vaishnavites and Siva is the Supreme Being to Saivites. This may seem self-evident but this central point is sometimes missed when both deities are placed in the same temple. With two Supreme Beings in the same temple, philosophical clarity is easily lost resulting in the youth finding Hinduism to be confusing.

For example we know of Siva-Vishnu temples which on their web site describe Siva as the destroyer and Vishnu as the preserver. Of course, this is not how knowledgeable Saivites and Vaishnavites look at it. To Saivites, Siva is the Supreme Being and therefore performs all three actions of creation, preservation and destruction. To Vaishnavites, Vishnu is the Supreme Being and therefore performs all three actions of creation, preservation and destruction. That we worship the Supreme Being is clearly the view of Hinduism's primary scriptures, shruti, the Vedas and Agamas. So that's that point, Siva and Vishnu are one. Three points of view huh, convincing, Vaishnavite, Saivite and Smarta.

So as we know in our calendar created by Gurudeva, this begins a new ritau as well as being the New Year. In our calendar we have three ritaus. Some calendars have six but we just have three so this is an introduction to the ritau system and then material on the Nartana Ritau. andquot;Sacred calendar. Governing the ebb and flow of daily life is our sacred calendar which provides mystic knowledge in the science of auspicious timing to help all my sishya flow with the river of life. In this chapter we also learn that from year to year at Kauai Aadheenam three major climatic seasons are experienced. With these seasons our activities change in nature both inwardly and outwardly.

Beginning with Hindu New Year in mid-April three seasons of the year divide our activities into three great needs of humankind--the learning of scripture in the first season Nartana Ritau;andquot; which is this one, andquot;the living of culture in the second season, Jivana Ritau; and the meditating on Siva in the third season, Moksha Ritau. Thus we are constantly reminded that our life is Siva's life and our path to Him is through study, sadhana and realization. In ritau one, we teach the philosophy; in ritau two we teach the culture; and in ritau three, we teach meditation.

At Kauai's Hindu monastery and everywhere members reside, the Hindu flag, Hindutva dvaja, majestically proclaiming the Sanatana Dharma.andquot; Well that's an interesting sentence. That's how it reads. andquot;At Kauai's Hindu monastery and everywhere members reside the Hindu flag, Hindutva dvaja, majestically proclaiming the Sanatana Dharma.andquot; It's change with with our three, it's change with our three seasons. andquot;It changes with our three seasons. Many smaller flags of various colors are also flown, welcoming pilgrims into special realms of the four month period. Dharmasala temples, mission house alters and home shrines also reflect the seasonal colors in their decorations.

Nartana Ritau the season of 'Dancing with Siva' begins on Hindu New Year. This is the period of creation, the warm season, from mid-April through mid-August. Teaching is 'Dancing with Siva: Hinduism's Contemporary Catechism, Sivena saha Nartanam.' This foundational text is featured in all mission satsangas. The key word of this season is planning. The colors are orange, yellow-gold and all shades of green--orange for renunciation, yellow-gold for action and green for regeneration. High above, the main Hindu flag flies the color orange, heralding the Nartana Ritau throughout this season, symbolizing sadhana and self-control. The other colors adorn smaller flags. This is the season of giving special attention to those in the grihastha ashrama. It is a time of awakening, renewal, review. The emphasis is on seeing ahead, planning for future years. It is a time of planning retreats and other activities for youths and adults for the entire year. During this time of looking forward, the Church's six-year plan is updated by the Guru Mahasannidhanam and stewards and another year added. The 'Saiva Dharma Shastras' are studied and any needed additions and supplementary manuals representing new growth, are made. The practical focus is completion of unfinished projects. Secular holidays to observe among the families include Mother's Day in May, Father's Day in June and Grandparents Day in August. In the monastery the monks begin their annual thirty-one day ayurvedic herbal cleansing. Intensive cleaning of monastery buildings and grounds takes place. The special dietary adjustments for the season come into effect and new menus are established. New clothing is issued and old garments mended. The season of harvest and new growth is also the time to renew and reestablish picking and planting routines for the gardens. It is the time for ordering seeds and plants for the new year, of planting trees, fragrant vines and the annual crop. Review is made for scheduling the care of all nine realms of the Aadheenam's fifty-one acres. Kadavul Temple and the Guru Temple are cleaned and renewed during this season and the adjacent grounds receive special, abundant attention. Karma yogis are invited to help in this and other areas with planting and weeding, digging, fertilizing, fence repair and more.andquot;

Interesting that we just redid the garden next to Nandi here so some times we do things without remembering they're right here. [laughs] Then we read them and say: andquot;Oh we just did that.andquot; So we did that a little early all right.

andquot;The daily sadhana is the Siva Chaitanya Pancha, the daily sadhana is the Siva Chaitanya Pancha Tantra: experiencing nada, jyoti, prana, shakti and darshana. In Sanskrit, it is time of learning new slokas. It is a time of learning new slokas and mantras. In the family community prasnottara satsanga is held for one and all to attend. Families plan for their annual pilgrimage. Shrine rooms are renewed and redecorated for the year and the clothing of all is renewed in the Hindu style of the current fashion. It is a time of doing things for others, religious outreach. In the missions Nartana Ritau is a time of bringing in new students and church members. it is a time of hatha yoga and philosophical teachings.

The main festival of Nartana Ritau and of the entire year is Guru Purnima. The mathavasis hold special conclave on Vaikasi Visakham, the full moon day of May. The three Aadheenam realms of the season are: 1) Rishi Valley--with its secluded Guru Hut and parampara shrines on the banks of Rishi Valley's Saravanabhava Lake; 2) Wailua Farm, with its pastures, orchards and gardens; and 3) Kadavul Koyil, with its Guru Temple, entry gardens, Banyon Pavilion, Tiruneri Path, sacred tank and its Puakenikeni and Mango Mandapams.andquot;

So that's our ritau focus so we're encouraging everyone to update their plans. Gurudeva encouraged planning, he loved to plan, felt it was a very important part of life. And not only for the monastery which has plans but also for each family or each single individual to have a plan. And the plan should be comprehensive and go a few years in the future, at least three, up to six and about the various areas of life. See if I can remember them. Religious, social, cultural, economic and educational. The various aspects of life so to set goals in all those areas and as you know when we've talked about plans in the past, usually families think of economic plans. Retirement plans and I looked on the web for family plans and only family plans there were were economic plans. No one planned out their religious life for six years, their social life for six years, cultural life, educational life but it's important. And it helps us move forward in our life and not become stagnant and it's important for all members of the family regardless of age to do new things, to learn new things. And so by going through this planning process we focus on that. You know education: what new subject should I learn, what new skills should I acquire? Social: what important gatherings should my family and all my relatives have during this coming year to be you know be supportive of one another? Economic: we all know economic planning, planning for the future, planning for retirement. Cultural planning: making sure we have enough cultural activities in our life, and for youth you know still learning the cultural skills, still learning musical instruments and dance is an important part of the cultural part of life. And religious part of our life: you know can we go on a major pilgrimage this year? If so where will it be? And we need to put more energy in our shrine room. Redecorate it, renovate it, put more life in it and so forth. So like that Gurudeva encourages us during this season to plan and in all the aspects of our life. So, it fits right in with the astrology of the year, of the time, you know this is the intellectual period of the year, starting with Aries. So we tend to think a lot during this time of year anyway so it's a natural time to plan. That's why it falls in this quarter.

So having said all of that we get to raise our flag in a few minutes right? A little flag raising ceremony. You're all welcome to attend if you can stay. We parade out to our flag pole and raise the flag which impresses our mind that something has changed. We have a new color flag, something is different. What is it? Oh, we have a new season, what are we supposed to do? Plan, study philosophy etcetera. So it's just a very simple way of impressing the mind that it's a new season.