Who Are Our Holy Men and Women?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 38


Bodhinatha describes the nature of the holy men and women of Saivism and relates the teachings of the women saint Auvaiyar. He shows how her focus is on dharma and at the same time, in her poem to Ganesha, how she exemplifies the nature of the monistic theism of our tradition -- how theistic worship of the Deity takes us deep into inner awakenings of monism, being one with Siva.

Path to Siva, Lesson 38

Unedited Transcript:

Reading this morning from Path to Siva, Lesson 38. "Who are our holy men and women?"

"Saivism has many holy men and women. All are great devotees of Siva, Murugan and Ganesha. We honor living holy ones on their birthday, or jayanti. Those who have left this Earth we revere on the day of their passing, or mahasamadhi--their new birthday. Saints reflect the peace, humility and purity of a devout life. Sages are great souls who may outwardly appear ordinary. Satgurus are enlightened beings who guide others on the path. Holy men and women--married people as well as gurus, sadhus and swamis--have stood strong for Saivism at critical times throughout history. Many traveled widely and spread Saivite culture and knowledge to new areas. Some were solitary mystics, meditating and performing yoga. Some wrote scriptures or composed beautiful songs to God that we sing today. Our lineage began over 2,000 years ago with Maharishi Nandinatha, a yoga master from Kashmir. His disciple Sundaranatha, later known as Rishi Tirumular, traveled by foot to South India to teach Saivism. Our many gurus followed from him. Other Saivite traditions include that of Matsyendranatha and his disciple Gorakshanatha, who expounded hatha yoga and spread Natha Saivism through central India and Nepal. The many women saints include the austere yogini Karaikkal Ammaiyar and the beloved Saint Auvaiyar, whose poems children study to learn religion and good conduct. Among the most famous Tamil Saiva saints are the Nalvars, who kept Saivism strong in Tamil Nadu twelve centuries ago."

And we have our quote from Gurudeva, "Though it may not be your dharma to formally renounce the world, you can benefit your search immensely by knowing how the great ones seek to live and respond to life. You can find ways in the midst of your life to follow their example."

Very good. I think, one of the aspects of "Who are our holy men and women?" is the great diversity of who the holy men and women are. They're no exactly all in the same mold. So, some are married, some are unmarried, some are men, some are women, and they wrote a great deal of different types of literature, and even had different outer appearances. And that's one of the qualities, again, of the diversity. The text says we have saints, sages and satgurus. A saint is someone who looks like a typical saint, a very saintly looking person, but we can have great holy men who aren't easily recognizable. And, those are called sages. Chellappaswami was definitely a sage. He had a reputation for being mad, fooled everyone except for Siva, his way of having privacy. At that time, you didn't have a house with a door that locked. You know, people would just go in wherever you are. Even Yogaswami, the way he kept people away was, sometimes he'd throw stones at them. Of course he would miss... yell at them. That was his door, because people would just come in. Chellappaswami had the door of apparent madness, so that kept a lot of people away. Also he would scold. From a distance he would scold people. You had to be very sincere to approach someone like that. And then the Sat Guru is someone who is obviously teaching, as we talked about. Teaching about "sat", teaching about the truth within you.

As you know we produced a book on character, a character building workbook, to help individuals improve their character by defining clearly the different character qualities that are important and giving examples of each and then it gives and assignment, that you can use to practice it. So, I thought it would be useful in presenting this book to traditional Tamil temple groups, to talk about Auvaiyar's works. So we took a look at Auvaiyar's works. Atti Chudi and Konrai Veythan are the two works for children that we looked at, and their translations weren't quite up to standard, so with the help of one of our members we got better English rendering. So, they are very interesting in that, it's a combination of learning a language and learning good conduct at the same time. When you think about learning English, the alphabet, A, B, C, D, E ... I'm sure you don't remember learning good conduct when you learned A, B, C, D, E, right? It wasn't built into the study, but in this case the alphabet which starts with the vowels is learned, but you're learning good conduct as well.

So in Atti Chudi... the vowels in Tamil a, aa, i, ee, u, oo...so "a" is "aram" "Aram sey virumbu." - "Desire to fulfill dharma." One thing I like about Atti Chudi is the Tamil is short I can actually read it, two or three words, good for me. Second one: "Aaruvathu sinam." - "Cool off anger." So people got angry then too. Human nature doesn't change. So, its very practical statement and I like the second one too, Kondri Veythan, it starts the same way. It's got four words, so, a little more challenging: "Annaiyum pitaavum munnari theyvam." - "Father and mother are one's first known God." That's very nice, father and mother. Second one, long A: "Aalayam tholuvathu saalavum nanru." - "Temple worship is immensely good." So, you get the temple in there, while learning the alphabet. So it shows how the two aren't separate, secular learning and religion aren't necessarily separate. It's kind of a modern phenomenon where we've had to separate them, separation of church and state. So public schools are state, so they're separated, in the US, from religions. But in the old system you can see learning Tamil alphabet you're learning all the basic virtues as well. You're learning basic terms about dharmas, such as 'aram' and the temple 'aalayam.'

Then there is another work by Auvaiyar. Some say it is a different Auvaiyar. We din't take any position on that in our own writings. We just say that some people say that the Vinayagar Avahal is written by someone else with the same name. But it's a very interesting scripture and gives an interesting insight into the holy men and women of our Saivite tradition. As you know we talk a lot about monistic theism and it's very common in Gurudeva's writings. We talk about it because most traditions are either monistic or theistic, they're not both. But our tradition is monistic theism. It has both. We could say theistic monism, turn it around.

So what does that mean? So, the poem shows ain a beautiful way. What it means is that our theism influences our monism. What does that mean? It means we're expressing devotion to the Deity, seeking the blessings of the Deity and when we get the blessings of the Deity, sometimes that can cause inner awakenings, or monism, it can cause us to be aware of our inner self. So that's what the poem has as a constant theme. so I thought I would read it. It's not too long.

"Cool, fragrant lotus feet with anklets tinkling sweet, gold girdle, flower-soft garment setting off the comely hips, pot-belly and big, heavy tusk, elephant-face with the bright red mark, five hands, the goad, the noose, blue body dwelling in the heart, pendulous jaws, four mighty shoulders, three eyes and the three required marks, two ears, the gold crown gleaming, the breast aglow with the triple thread, O Being, bright and beautiful! Wish-yielding elephant, born of the Master of Mystery in Mount Kail?sa, mouse-rider, fond of the three famed fruits, desiring to make me yours this instant, you like a mother have appeared before me and cut the delusion of unending births."

So you probably didn't expect that if you didn't know it was coming. It sounds just generally poetic, but Ganesha appeared, and like a mother "cut the delusion of unending births, so that's starting to get into the mystical part

"You have come and entered my heart, imprinting clear the five prime letters, set foot in the world in the form of a guru, declared the final truth is this, gladly, graciously shown the way of life unfading. With that unfailing weapon, your glance, you have put an end to my heinous sins, poured in my ear uncloying precepts, laid bare for me the clarity of ever-fresh awareness, sweetly given me your sweet grace for firm control of the senses five, taught how to still the organs of action; snapped my two-fold karma and dispelled my darkness, giving, out of grace, a place for me in all four states; dissolved the illusion of triple filth, taught me how to shut the five sense gates of the nine-door temple, fixed me firm in the six yogic centers, stilled my speech, taught me the writ of i?? and pi?gal?, shown me at last the head of sushum??. To the tongue of the serpent that sinks and soars you have brought the force sustaining the three bright spheres of sun, moon and fire? the mantra unspoken asleep in the snake? and explicitly uttered it; imparted the skill of raising by breath the raging flame of m?l?dh?ra; explained the secret of immortality, the sun?s movement and the charm of the moon; the water lily?s friend, the sixteen states of the pras?da mantra; revealed to me in thoughtful wisdom the six-faced form and the meanings four; disclosed to me the subtle body and the eight separate modes of being; the orifice of Brahman opened, giving me miraculous powers, by your sweet grace, and mukti, too; revealed my Self to me and by your grace swept away accumulated karma, stilled my mind in tranquil calm beyond speech and thought; clarified my intellect, plunged me in bliss which is the common ground of light and darkness. Boundless beatitude you have given me, ended all affliction, shown the way of grace: ?iva eternal at the core of sound, ?ivali?ga within the heart, atom within atom, vast beyond all vastness, sweetness hid in the hardened node. You have steadied me clear in human form all besmeared with holy ashes; added me to the congregation of your servants true and trusty; made me experience in my heart the inmost meaning of the five letters; restored my real state to me; and rule me now, O Master of Wisdom, Vin?yaka. Your feet alone, O Master of Wisdom, Vin?yaka, your feet alone, are my sole refuge."

Beautiful poem, really monistic theism to me, since it shows beautifully how the grace of the Deity catalyzes inner unfoldement in our tradition. Gurudeva stresses that when he talks about Lord Murugan. He says, about Lord Murugan's grace, the kundalini doesn't really become active, so meditaiton doesn't take you that deeply. You need the grace of Lord Murugan to meditate, so that's how the theism is needed for the monism to work.

Thank you very much

Photo of  Gurudeva
Siva's devotees accept all experiences, however difficult, as their self-created karma, without cringing or complaining. Theirs is the power of surrender, accepting what is as it is and dealing with it courageously. Aum.
—Gurudeva