What Are Our Saiva Forehead Marks?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 54


The three stripes of vibhuti across the forehead signify trying to purify ourselves from the influence of anava, karma and maya. There are two ways we're attached to the world, that which gives us pleasure and pain. We're slowly changing our karma over a period of many lifetimes through wise action in the present. With humble action we work on lessening the ego-sense rather than enhancing it.

Path to Siva, Lesson 54

Master Course Trilogy, Living with Siva, Lessons 53-54

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone.

This morning we are reading from Path to Siva, Lesson 54:

"What Are Our Saiva Forehead Marks?

"Our forehead marks are a distinctive Hindu cultural and spiritual practice. We wear red or black dots, white stripes and designs in sandalwood paste. Most marks are sectarian. They tell the world which Hindu tradition we follow. Worshipers of Lord Vishnu often wear a U-shaped tilaka made of clay. Saivites wear three stripes of white sacred ash, called vibhuti or tiruniru, across their forehead. This mark is called a tripundra. These practices have mystical explanations. Holy ash can be seen by the devas in the inner worlds, especially during puja. This allows them to better help us. The holy ash signifies purity and the burning away of the soul's three bonds: anava, karma and maya. Wearing it brings the blessings and protection of God Siva. It also reminds us of the temporary nature of the physical body and inspires us to strive without delay for God Siva's grace. A dot is often worn just below the middle of the forehead. It is called bindi in Hindi and pottu in Tamil and is used by Hindus of all sects. Said to represent the 'third eye' of spiritual sight, it is a reminder to use our mind's eye or inner vision and not just see life with our physical eyes. A red bindi can indicate a woman is married. A black one, especially on a child, is intended for protection. The sacraments passed out after a puja in a Saivite temple include vibhuti, kumkum and sandalwood. Both men and women apply all three. Women usually use a smaller amount of ash on the forehead than men. Visitors to a Hindu home are often blessed first at the doorway with a pottu. We proudly wear our forehead marks, knowing they distinguish us as devout Hindus."

And we have Gurudeva's quote: "We wear the pure white ash to alert the devas that we are members of this religion. This vibhuti is a sign, a way of saying, 'We seek your help, and we seek your blessings.' And by seeing the ash, they can distinguish your face... The dot worn on the forehead is a sign that one is a Hindu. The dot has a mystical meaning. It represents the third eye of spiritual sight, which see things the physical eyes cannot see."

Vibhuti and anava, karma and maya; what I thought I'd speak a little bit about next. Trying to purify ourselves from the influence of anava, karma and maya as it effects us as an individual. Maya comes first, the world. So of course, reminder that in some traditions maya means illusion but in Saiva Siddhanta it just refers to the world. Normally, when we think of the world and purifying ourselves from its influence, of course, we think of attraction. Being drawn to that which is in the world. Patanjali used the word 'raga' for attraction. It's human nature, shall we say, to be drawn to that which is in the world because we see it as a source of pleasure or we see it as a way of becoming happy. And Patanjali says: "Attraction is that which rests on pleasant experiences." Meaning, if something has been enjoyable in the past, then we are attracted to it in the present. Very simple idea.

And there's nothing wrong with enjoying things of the world but as I've pointed out in a number of talks it is problematic if we think it's going to provide us happiness. Going to have ice cream. But to think if we have ice cream every day of our life that's what will make us happy that's where we are going too far. Fine to enjoy certain things of the world but we need to look for our happiness on the inside not in what we experience in the world. So that would be the normal way of talking about maya. Now we move on to karma but Patanjali points out there's another way in which we are attached to the world and that's by what we don't like. Well that's aversion, 'dvesha.'

"Aversion...Aversion is that which rests on sorrowful experiences." Well that's like the unpleasant experiences we had in growing up, painful memories of relationships with family members, events that happened. Thats an attachment to maya, it's an attachment to the past but it's still an attachment. It externalizes us.

So there's two ways we're attached to the world, through that which gives us pleasure and that which gives us pain or aversion. So we need to, of course, resolve that which gives us pain and we have techniques for that such as the vasana daha tantra: Writing down what's bothering us from the past and burning it up. Apologizing to people, etc. Different ways we can resolve that which we don't like about the world. So once our attraction and aversion to the world is under control, shall we say, that's the first task. Cause it's not under control that's constantly, all we can do is handle attraction and aversion to the world. We're too busy doing that to do anything else.

We can think about karma. So when we think about karma and we understand the principle and we have maya reasonably under control, then of course, the first way we think about it is not doing something adharmic. Don't want to do something that's not virtuous in the present because we know that's going to create the same experience for us in the future. So we're, we have that understanding. So we start acting wisely in the present and in that way we're slowly changing our karma over a periods of many lifetimes by wise action in the present.

Have the biggest challenge in doing that comes when we get mistreated. We can be doing fine up to that point in the day. Then somebody's really nasty to us and boy, we want to be nasty back, right? Human nature is to retaliate. So if we retaliate, of course, that's, we've messed up our perfect record there for the day. Adharmic action. So usually, people don't retaliate who are religious but they don't let go of it either. They kind of attached to it in a negative way again. Create a new negative attachment there by resenting how they were treated. Thinking about it. Well we think about something regularly that means we're attached to it. We've created a new attachment to the world by not letting it go. So we need to find a way to let it go. And, whatever works for you. One way is philosophical, if you can be philosophical about it you can say: So this happened to me, this person did this, but I'm the one who created it. If this person hadn't done it to me someone else would have to do it to me. So, why should I get mad at the messenger. I created this event. The person just delivered my message. That's one way of looking at it, philosophical way.

I remember one of our members was so good at that. She would thank the person. Oh, thank you for bring my karma back to me. Expert in not creating new karma. So, if we can handle mistreatment, let it go, then and act without doing anything adharmically, then we have karma under control. Our karma is getting more and more refined over lifetimes. So what's left? The hard one. Maya and karma are easy. Anava is the hard one.

So we've but, what Gurudeva says it, Living With Siva, Chapter 8, Scriptural Study and Cognition, if you want to look it up.

"Psychic abilities are not in themselves deterrents on the path. They are permitted to develop later, after Parasiva, nirvikalpa samadhi." Okay, so those who have Parasiva can, it's okay. Those of you present today, all of you, you can develop those psychic abilities. The idea is they come naturally at a certain point of time. You're not going after them.

"...after Parasiva, nirvikalpa samadhi has been attained and fully established within the individual. But this, too, would be under the guru's grace and guidance, for these abilities are looked at as tools to fulfill certain works assigned by the guru to the devotee to fulfill until the end of the life of the physical body."

Well, that's a nice way of looking at it, it's a tool that you can use on works assigned by the guru. Very specific.

"...It is the personal ego, the anava, that is developed through the practice of palmistry, astrology, tarot cards, fortunetelling, past-life reading, crystal gazing, crystal healing, prana transference, etc., etc., etc. This personal ego enhancement is a gift from those who are healed... (That's, he's being facetious). This personal ego enhancement is a gift from those who are healed..."

You don't want this gift in other words. You're enhancing your ego. You're making it stronger. We want to make it weaker, you know. So if you heal people, then they praise you and that can make your ego stronger.

"...This personal ego enhancement is a gift from those that are healed, who are helped, who are encouraged and who are in awe of the psychic power awakened in the heart chakra of this most perfect person of higher consciousness who doesn't anger, display fear or exhibit any lower qualities."

Ah, that's beautiful. In other words, I'll give an example: In monastic life we have the vow of humility. So we're supposed to work on lessening the ego-sense. So, when we come into the monastery we have an ego-sense. A worldly ego-sense. I'm a great this; I'm great at this, this and this; you know I come from this family, etc. We have an ego-sense that we need to overcome. And monastic life as you, cooking, sweeping floors, cleaning toilets, doing very simple things. And one of the reasons all of us do simple things is to lessen the ego-sense. We don't have servants. We do it all ourselves. So lets say you're fairly successful at that. Gurudeva points on the ego doesn't totally go away until you, at the time of mahasamadhi. Let's say, so all we can say is you lessen the ego-sense.

And then you go out traveling, and you get into a monastic situation, like the healing situation, you're teaching, and those you are teaching come up and say: "Oh swami, you're the best teacher that's ever come from the aadheenam, you're really great. A lot of people tell you that, come back to the aadheenam with what? Now you have a spiritual ego. You got rid of your worldly ego and now you've built up a spiritual ego. Who has given it to you? As it says here: The personal ego enhancement is a gift from those you taught. So, of course, as a monk you don't want to build up a spiritual ego. And the same thing in ordinary life. If you, once you get good at something and people start to recognize you as being good, you don't want to strengthen your ego because of that. Wonderful way, not to strengthen the ego, is to deflect praise. Someone says: "Oh you're really great at this; I've never seen anyone do it so well." And then you say: "Well, that's because of my teacher" so and so. Or something of a more spiritual nature: "Well that's because I've been studying with Gurudeva for so long; he taught us how to do all these things." Someone praises you, you deflect the praise to a teacher. It's a very nice way of not just taking it on and strengthening your ego.

"The three malas that bind us are: maya, the ever perpetuating dance of creation, preservation and dissolution; karma, specifically our prarabdha karma, brought with us to face in this life, along with the karmas we are creating now and will create in the future; and anava, the ego, ignorance or sense of separateness. Maya can be understood, seen through and adjusted to through the heart-chakra powers of cognition, contentment and compassion..."

Well that's saying the same thing I did but differently. Gurudeva's saying, using the word contentment for not looking for happiness outside yourself, saying: If we're inside our self, in our higher chakras, fourth chakra-heart chakra, we will experience cognition, contentment and compassion. And therefore, that keeps us detached from maya. If we're discontent then we can start to try and go out in the world to become content. So if we're content then we don't do that.

"...Karmas can be harnessed through regular forms of disciplinary practices of body, mind and emotions, and the understanding of the law of karma itself as a force that is sent out through thought, feeling and action and most often returns to us through other peoples' thought, feeling and action. But it is the anava mala, the mala of personal ego, that is the binding chain which cannot be so easily dealt with. It is the last to go. It is only at the point of death, before the greatest mahasamadhi of the greatest rishi, that the anava mala chain is finally broken. If we compare this anava mala, personal ego, to an actual mala, a string of rudraksha beads, the purpose on the path at this stage, of mati, (mati is the niyama in which this is being elucidated) is to begin eliminating the beads, making the chain shorter and shorter..."

So that's the way of lessening the ego sense. Visually we see the beads on a mala ticking them off. So we have less beads through humble action.

"...The mala should be getting shorter and shorter rather than our adding beads to it so that it gets longer and longer. A warning: if the anava mala--symbolically a garland of rudraksha beads--has thirty-six beads and it steadily grows to 1,008 because of practices and the adulation connected with them within the psychic realms of pseudoscience of parapsychology--such as bending spoons, telepathy, channeling and ectoplasmic manifestations-- (and we can say: 'and for monks, teaching') the 1,000 strand of rudraksha beads could become so heavy, so dangerous to the wearer, that eventually he would trip and fall on his nose. The wise say, 'Pride goes before a fall.' And the still wiser know that 'spiritual pride is the most difficult pride to deal with, to eliminate, to rise above in a life-time.' The spiritually proud never open themselves to a satguru. The mystically humble do."

Have a wonderful day.

Photo of  Gurudeva
We neither fear death nor look forward to it, but revere it as a most exalted experience. Life, death and the afterlife are all part of our path to perfect oneness with God.
—Gurudeva