A talk given by Ramai Santhirapala during the monthly Yogaswami puja at Shree Ghanapathy Temple in the UK
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo…
Thank you for asking me to say a few words on my experience with Kauai Aadheenam and the Guru Parampara. My journey started in this very temple, in 2005 when Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami led a youth workshop here at Shree Ghanapathy Temple. I remember the publications which were handed out and for the first time my religion was explained in a highly professional manner in English. Growing up in the west and the challenges of adjusting to local culture whilst not losing one’s own is a balance. Even if one is not conscious of it, each is seeking an understanding of who they are.
Fast forward a few years to 2009; I found myself googling “Saivism in English” and came across a website known as Himalayan Academy; the site of Kauai Aadheenam. Having read other sites which explain Saivism in English, something about this site was different and felt unusually drawn – I immediately signed up to have the daily lessons emailed to me. Two years later I had another unusual opportunity to visit Hawaii and visit Kauai Aadheenam. To my mind at the time it was Skanda Sashti, a festival so beloved in our family, and a wonderful boon to visit a Saivite temple.
Whilst there one of the Swamis suggested I do the Master Course – a study of Saivism. Starting the Master Course formally in 2013, having read it on an ad-hoc basis beforehand has been nothing short of life changing. As some of you will know, I am an academic, and the thought of studying Saivism and understanding it from a philosophical and academic perspective appealed to me. Yet as Paramaguru Yogaswami’s Guru, Chellapaswami, spoke ‘Naan Ariyom’. We do not know – our minds are limited by intellectual reasoning and there is so much that remains unseen at least to our two eyes.
The Master Course was then a 15 month, now 24 month, course in English which takes one through Saivite philosophy helpfully breaking it down into three books; the trilogy. The first, Dancing with Siva, lays down the philosophical basis of Saivism in a bite-sized way. I wanted to share the first teaching from this book:
“Who Am I? Where Did I Come From?
Rishis proclaim that we are not our body, mind or emotions. We are divine souls on a wondrous journey. We came from God, live in God and are evolving into oneness with God. We are, in truth, the Truth we seek. Aum.
We are immortal souls living and growing in the great school of earthly experience in which we have lived many lives. Vedic Rishis have given us courage by uttering the simple truth, “God is the Life of our life.” A great sage carried it further by saying there is one thing God cannot do: God cannot separate Himself from us. This is because God is our life. God is the life in the birds. God is the life in the fish. God is the life in the animals. Becoming aware of this Life energy in all that lives is becoming aware of God’s loving presence within us. We are the undying consciousness and energy flowing through all things. Deep inside we are perfect this very moment, and we have only to discover and live up to this perfection to be whole. Our energy and God’s energy are the same, ever coming out of the void. We are all beautiful children of God. Each day we should try to see the life energy in trees, birds, animals and people. When we do, we are seeing God Siva in action. The Vedas affirm, ‘He who knows God as the Life of life, the Eye of the eye, the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind–he indeed comprehends fully the Cause of all causes.’ Aum Nama Sivaya.”
As you might imagine these verses, much like the natchinthinai, are profound and as an example some have been studying the Master Course for over 50 years and still find the words deeply insightful. The second book, Living with Siva, gives practical advice on how to live as a Saivite which was particularly useful as I was growing up in the west; simple directions like go to temple once a week, go on pilgrimage once a year, practice the yamas and niyamas; very practical. The last of the trilogy books, Merging with Siva, delves into the mystical aspects of Saivism – for example today’s lesson (Sivaya Subramuniyaswami conveniently divided each book into 365 lessons; one for each day of the year) spoke of the mystical power of dharsan.
I will read an excerpt:
“Little is known of the guru’s grace or the power of darshana in Western culture. Darshana (more popularly darshan) is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘vision, seeing or perception.’ But in its mystical usage, it is more than that. Darshan is also the feeling of the emotions of a holy person, the intellect, the spiritual qualities that he has attained and, most importantly, the shakti, the power, that has changed him and is there constantly to change others. Darshan encompasses the entirety of the being of a person of spiritual attainment. In India, everyone is involved in darshan. Some at a temple have darshan of the Deity. Others at an ashram have darshan of their swami or on the street enjoy darshan of a sadhu. And most everyone experiences durdarshan. That’s the word for television in India, meaning ‘seeing from afar.’ Even this seeing, through movies, news and various programs of mystery, tragedy, humor, the fine arts and culture, can affect our emotions, intellect, pulling us down or lifting us up in consciousness. Seeing is such a powerful dimension of life, and it affects us in so many ways, inside and out. Darshan, in the true meaning of this mystical, complex and most esoteric word, conveys all of this.
“The concept of darshan goes beyond the devotee’s seeing of the guru. It also embraces the guru’s seeing of the devotee. Hindus consider that when you are in the presence of the guru that his seeing of you, and therefore knowing you and your karmas, is another grace. So, darshan is a two-edged sword, a two-way street. It is a process of seeing and being seen. The devotee is seeing and in that instant drawing forth the blessings of the satguru, the swami or the sadhu. In turn, he is seeing the devotee and his divine place in the universe. Both happen within the moment, and that moment, like a vision, grows stronger as the years go by, not like imagination, which fades away. It is an ever-growing spiritual experience. The sense of separation is transcended, so there is a oneness between seer and seen. This is monistic theism, this is Advaita Ishvaravada. Each is seeing the other and momentarily being the other.”
This Master Course also taught me to perform a home puja to Pillaiyar and begin the steps of attention and concentration practices which Sivaya Subramuniyaswami speaks as pertinent prerequisites to meditation. You remember I thought of this as an academic study, yet it brought me so much more; almost like peeling off the layers which hide the inner light, it was a journey in seeing myself as a divine soul on a wondrous journey. The unseen boon of the Master Course was that in fact I was reading the words of my Guru Parampara. If I am honest before the Master Course had someone asked if I needed a Guru, my answer would have been “Why? Why have someone stand between you and God?”. But that only shows the mind’s ignorance and poor understanding of the real role of a Guru. From personal experience, a Guru is your friend, your confidante who by his own efforts and self realisation can see the steps ahead for you. Our teachings teach us to lean on our own spine, a favourite saying of Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, that all knowing is within us and this has given me courage to open doors where I was once tentative. For example it altered my professional trajectory to one of writing and now not only write academically but also the boon of writing for the foremost international magazine, Hinduism Today. However there are times when one is at a crossroads and despite soul searching the road ahead seems unclear and now I think to myself ‘What would Satguru Bodhinatha do?’. Where the path ahead is still uncertain I know he is just an email away or mystically always connected and here – for example sometimes the answers come through the words of others, circumstance or unusual opportunities. All in all visiting Kauai Aadheenam and completing the Master Course has been a life transforming experience. Aum Namah Sivaya.
• While Himalayan Academy’s resources are available for free at himalayanacemy.com, you can now sign up for an online Supervised Master Course program here: https://courses.himalayanacademy.com/courses/master-course
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