Entry of Women to Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple -A Detailed Look at Sabarimala’s History and the Recent Supreme Court Verdict

I am republishing an answer I wrote in Quora regarding the recent Supreme Court Verdict on allowing women of all age groups to Sabarimala temple. The question was “Should women be allowed to enter Sabarimala shrine?”. I am quoting from Wikipedia to give some background for this issue:

Sabarimala is a Hindu Temple in the Indian district of Kerala, where women pilgrims of menstruating age (10-50) were not legally allowed to enter from 1991 to 2018. In September 2018, a landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of India ruled that all women pilgrims, including those in the menstruating age group, should be allowed entrance to Sabarimala. This verdict led to widespread protests by the believers.Several women attempted to enter Sabarimala despite threats of physical assault against them but failed to reach the sanctum sanctorum.

Full article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entry_of_women_to_Sabarimala_Ayyappa_Temple

It is time for our society to understand the correct reasons for the ban of women between 10–50 and decide something for the greater good. Whether these women should be allowed there or not depends on what we agree to as a society, after carefully weighing down the pros and cons. Rules are made for people, people are not made for rules!

There are advantages in not allowing the women of that age group. But there are disadvantages too! After understanding both, let us decide what should be done!

First, the Supreme Court has approached this issue with a wrong assumption. There is no gender discrimination here and it is not the reason for disallowing young women to Sabarimala!

There are three different reasons which are said for disallowing women of age group 10 -50. The first reason is no longer relevant, the second reason is absurd and the third reason, which is the actual and the important reason, is completely ignored.

But if the third reason is properly explained, I think most of the people who are now protesting will understand. Let us see those three reasons one by one.

  1. Usually, there are different rules for the temples which are situated in mountains with high altitude or mountains which are amidst dense forests. Just imagine how people went to Sabarimala two or three centuries before. They have to take long and dangerous routes which were completely unsafe for women. Such temples cannot be kept open during all days of the year just like other temples. To state an example, devotees climb the Velliangiri mountains in Tamil Nadu during the month of April and May. But women of age group between 10–50 are not allowed to climb Velliangiri hills either. This ban is for their own protection. Because, there are chances that they can get raped and killed. In the dense forests of high altitude, there are lot of chances for women to get stuck at some place along the way where there is no one to help. Even now, it is better for women of young age to not to climb Velliangiri hills. Because I have climbed those mountains and anyone who climbed it can understand why it could be dangerous.But this is not applicable to Sabari Mala anymore. Sabari Mala today is not dangerous for women anymore as it was once. Women devotees can be completely protected. So as I said, this first reason is no longer relevant.
  2. We also have a story associated with it. It is said that Ayyappa is a Naishtika Brahmachari and he doesn’t want to see young women at all. Whether a woman is 13 or 47 doesn’t matter, she can still disturb the penance of Ayyappa and spoil his Brahmacharya. We need to stop taking myths too seriously. Because, sometimes myths go to the extent of insulting and degrading the divinity which is all pervading and beyond space and time. First of all, there is a difference between Dharma Sastha and Ayyappa or Manikandan. Manikandan was a human prince who lived about 1000 years before. The myths about Manikanda are not reliable because they were written for certain reasons that I will explain later in this answer. Manikandan was considered as an incarnation of Dharma sastha just like we consider Rama as an incarnation of Vishnu. Dharma Sastha is depicted as having two consorts: Poorna and Pushkala. These words mean completion or fullness and prosperity respectively. Here the idea is, after a person attains Moksha, he also attains fullness and prosperity. Also, in Sabarimala, the pujas and moola mantra are addressed to Dharma Sastha directly. Manikandan is said to have merged with Dharma Sastha which is a symbolic way of conveying that Manikanda attained Parinirvana and merged with divinity. So stating that allowing young women to Sabarimala will disturb Ayyappa’s Brahmacharya is completely absurd! He doesn’t exist as a distinct personality anymore. So in the name of Ayyappa, all you are worshipping is Dharmasastha, which in reality is the same as Shiva, Vishnu or Shakthi. It is one divinity that we pray to!

Some people even went ahead and said that the floods in Kerala is the result of the anger of Ayyappa. They also go ahead and say that there will be serious consequences if women are allowed. The idea that all pervading divinity would punish innocent human beings because of anger is totally primitive and complete nonsense. This self-contradicting God is not what Sanatana Dharma talks about. Such ideas are spread by common folks who hasn’t read Bhagavad Gita or Vedas, and has got nothing to do with Ayyappa. Please don’t make God limited and portray him as such a dumb person who will get angry and punish innocent people just because a 12 year old girl or 47 year old woman spoiled his Brahmacharya vrata. Even a human being wouldn’t do that!

3. Here is the actual reason for disallowing the women of age group 10–50. Sabarimala temple has a uniqueness that other temples do not have. To my knowledge, it is the only temple which is maintained for this special reason.

Once it was believed that renouncing the world and practicing austerities were completely necessary for an individual to attain liberation. Even Adhi Shankara has written in his commentaries that if one is seeking liberation then he has no choice other than renouncing the world, own only a begging bowl and keep wandering. But after Bhakthi and other spiritual traditions became popular, it was said that even married people and women can be seekers. So, there are many spiritual sadhanas which have been designed for people who live in family. For example, during the month of Dec-Jan (Marghazhi), women wake up very early and go to Vishnu temples and sing Bhajans; this is a spiritual practice for women but it is open for men too. There are some sadhanas which are open only for women and not for men. For example, women in Tamil Nadu do a special worship for Lord Ganesh by offering him with a snack known as ‘Auvaiyar kozhukkattai ’. Men are not allowed to know the reason and purpose of this worship; they are not allowed to eat those kozhukkattais either which is so unfortunate. 🙂 I have tried to get them many times when I was a kid but no luck! The same way, the pilgrimage to Sabarimala is a spiritual Sadhana for men. Women do not need it and I will explain why.

There is enough scientific evidence now for the fact that men lack self-control when compared to women. Since men have more testosterone, they are naturally very aggressive, lack self-control and very week in delaying gratification. In other words, women can very easily sacrifice a smaller reward that is immediately available for a bigger reward that awaits them in the future. They can also very easily go through a smaller difficulty now to avoid a bigger difficulty later. We have all intuitively known this. Back in school, we all know who makes more noise when a teacher steps out and which gender always fails to do the home work .

A pilgrimage to Sabarimala allows married men to live like monks and practice severe austerities, see divinity in each and every person, completely surrender oneself to divinity and avoid even the sight of women. Doing this for 41 days can free men from many of their habitual tendencies or Vasanas. Such a spiritual practice that is done once in a year for 18 years is actually enough for a person to reach spiritual liberation.

The devotees are expected to follow a Vratham (41-day austerity period) prior to the pilgrimage. This begins with wearing of a special Mala (a chain made of Rudraksha or Tulasi beads is commonly used, though still other types of chains are available.). During the 41 days of Vratham, the devotee who has taken the vow, is required to strictly follow the rules that include follow only a lacto-vegetarian diet (In India, vegetarianism is synonymous with lacto-vegetarianism), follow celibacy, follow teetotalism, not use any profanity and have to control the anger, allow the hair and nails to grow without cutting. They must try their maximum to help others, and see everything around them as lord Ayyappa. They are expected to bath twice in a day and visit the local temples regularly and only wear plain black or blue colored traditional clothing. Saffron colored dresses are worn by Sannyasi who have renunciated material life. But, many devotees still continue to wear saffron colored clothes which becomes a part of Vedic culture which connects the whole Hindus worldwide.

Source: https://www.rvatemples.com/listings/sree-dharma-sastha-temple/

When a devotee reaches the Sabarimala shrine, he can see the Mahavakya ‘Tat tvam asi’ written above the temple in Devanagari script:

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This is the truth one realizes by experience when a person attains Atmajnana. This is the spiritual instruction that Dharmasastha attempts to give. The whole purpose of pilgrimage to Sabarimala is to realize this truth in one’s experience at some point of time in his life.

A true seeker of liberation who is a devotee of Dharmasastha would want to meditate in and around the temple and he doesn’t want to see anything that is distracting. He doesn’t the want sight and proximity of women because sometimes the sight and proximity can distract him and make him to start thinking about something else. This is a specially designed Sadhana which can help men to get rid of many vasanas, including any obsession they may have about women.

A woman doesn’t need such a sadhana because nature itself has given her a lot of concession by making her more disciplined. As I said, it is a scientific fact that women have more self-control than men because of their low levels of testosterone. More over, women also have enough compassion to understand the weakness of men and allow them to have their own space. Do men ever claim space in a ‘Ladies only’ bus or women’s gym? We understand why they need their own space sometimes. Just like that, Sabarimala has been a space for men (and women who are under 10 or over 50) to the spiritual practice created for them.

Because of this, Sabarimala has attracted people from all religions and all faiths and helped people to forget their religious differences. I know of many Christian men who wore mala for Sabarimala without letting their wives know; only after they came home, their wives found out that their husbands just got converted! I used to have a close friend in primary school whose dad did the same thing. Ever since, their family follows both Hinduism and Christianity.

There is also a sannidhi for Vavar who was a Muslim. Sabarimala already includes the aspects of all sects within Hinduism:

The customs of the pilgrims to Sabarimala are based on five worshipping methods; those of Shaivites, Shaktists and Vaishnavites. At first, there were three sections of devotees – the devotees of Shakti who used meat to worship their deity, the devotees of Vishnu who followed strict penance and continence, and the devotees of Shiva who partly followed these two methods. Another name of Ayyappa is Sastha. All these can be seen merged into the beliefs of pilgrims to Sabarimala. The chain the pilgrims wear comes from the Rudraksha chain of the Shaivites. The strict fasting, penance and continence is taken out of the beliefs of the Vaishnavites. The offering of tobacco to Kaduthaswamy can be considered to be taken from the Shaktists..

Source: http://missiongreensabarimala.com/pilgrimage/history/history-behind-worshiping-methods

There is also a Buddhist aspect to Sabarimala too. To understand that, we need to explore the history instead of relying on the myths. As we understand some history, we can also understand why these myths are created. The form of Dharmasastha itself was created to resolve conflicts between Shaivites and Vaishnavites.

I would like to give an example to illustrate a point here. Years before, I saw a Telugu movie (starred by Chiranjeevi I think) which was dubbed in Tamil. After watching the movie I realized that the Telugu movie itself was a remake of the Tamil movie ‘Mannan’ starred by actor Rajinikanth. So, both these movies have the same story and screenplay; only the hero has changed. The same has happened with Sabarimala. The spiritual sadhana and uniqueness of the Sabarimala has stayed the same over many centuries but the hero of Sabarimala was changed once in the history! But that doesn’t matter. Wise people know that ‘ekam sat viprAh bahudhA vadanti’ (Truth is one; but called by many names).

Have you heard of Avalokiteshvara?

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(Image source: Wikipedia)

Avalokiteshvara is the Buddhist version of Lord Shiva. Mahayana Buddhism which was popular in Tamil Nadu had once adopted many deities of Hindu sects for the tantric practices they had. It would be right to say that except the terminology and some minor differences, Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism are the same. Because, these Buddhists also consecrated idols and temples. For the forms of deities, they mostly absorbed the deities of existing sects of Hinduism and portray these deities as forms of Bodhisattva. They also have other deities surrounding the main deity forming a mandala and use it for meditation. This is exactly what we do in Hinduism when we consecrate temples. A temple is nothing but a big mandala, which is a space for meditation for general public. We have Shaiva, Vaishnava and Saktha agamas which explain the consecration processes of temples.

Here is an excerpt from an article written by someone who has already done a lot of research on this subject:

There is considerable evidence that Lord Ayyappan was once a Buddhist deity, and that Sabarimala was once a Buddhist temple complex. However, it appears that prior to its Buddhist incarnation, the temple was an early Dravidian Saivite centre; therefore it has been a sacred spot of singular merit of at least three or four millennia. Its famed Makara Jyotis (Divine Light) which appears mysteriously in the forest on Makara Sankranti day gave it the name Potalaka.

Astonishingly, it appears that the Dalai Lama’s Palace in Lhasa, the incomparable Potala, is named after Sabarimala! The Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be) Avalokitesvara Padmapani, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who is, by tradition, reincarnated as the Dalai Lama, was also the one worshipped at Sabarimala.

I am indebted to my cerebral friend Devakumar Sreevijayan (formerly of Austin, Texas and currently of New York City) for almost all of this fascinating research. It is in three texts: the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Hymn to the Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara, and the writings of the intrepid Chinese traveller Hsiuen Tsang (Zuen Xang?), that we find the detailed references. Dev found a good deal of information in the book, The Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara by Lokesh Chandra.

But there is ample circumstantial evidence for Kerala’s Buddhist/Jain past. Unlike Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh and Sravanabelagola in Karnataka, they have left no large monuments in Kerala, but it is known that Kodungallur, for example, was a Buddhist centre. Kodungallur, at the time known as Muziris, was a major port; a Buddhist nunnery there became a great Devi temple later, associated with Kannagi, the heroine of the Tamil epic Silappathikaram (The Jewelled Anklet) written by the Chera Prince Ilango Adigal, who lived in what is now Kerala.

The revered Patriarch Bodhidharma (Daruma in Japanese) from Kodungallur was the originator of the Zen sect (dhyana in Sanskrit, Ch’an in Chinese) — he went to the Shao-Lin monastery in China (420-479 CE), and he took the martial art of kalari payat there for the protection of the unarmed monks, whence the various martial arts of East Asia. According to Chinese legend, Bodhidharma also created the tea plant, by tearing off his eyelids and planting them in the ground: presumably this means he also took the tea plant with him.

The legend of Mahabali — the asura king sent to the underworld by an avatar of Lord Vishnu — also gives clues to the Hindu-Buddhist past: an egalitarian Buddhist rule overthrown by Brahmin-led Upanishadic Hindus. Perhaps there was a period of co-existence, much like the centuries-old peaceful co-existence between the followers of the Buddha and Eswara/Siva in South East Asia. In the great temples of Java and Cambodia, Eswara/Buddha are almost seen as interchangeable.

At Prambanan in Java (the Hindu counterpart to the great Buddhist complex at Borobudur) and at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the images of Siva/Eswara and of the Buddha are sometimes intermixed; apparently there was no great animosity between the worshippers of both. Similarly, one might hope, the transitions from Siva to the Buddha to Ayyappan were relatively peaceful.

The circumstantial evidence for the Buddhist nature of Lord Ayyappan is compelling. For one, the devotees chant: “Swamiye saranam Ayyappa,” so close to the Buddhist mantra: “Buddham saranam gacchami, Sangham saranam gacchami, Dhammam saranam gacchami.

Furthermore, the very sitting posture of the Ayyappan deity is suggestive: almost every Buddhist image anywhere, including those sometimes unearthed in the fields of Travancore by farmers, is in sitting position. Whereas practically no other deity in Kerala is in that posture.

Says Lokesh Chandra: ‘The Avatamsaka Sutra describes the earthly paradise of Avalokitesvara: ”Potalaka is on the sea-side in the south, it has woods, it has streams, and tanks”…Buddhabhadra’s (AD 420) rendering of Potala (or Potalaka) is ”Brilliance.” It refers to its etymology: Tamil pottu (potti-) ”to light (as a fire)”…brilliance refers to the makara-jyoti of Sabarimala.’

‘Hsuen Tsang refers to Avalokitesvara on the Potala in the following words, summarised by Waters (1905): ”In the south of the country near the sea was the Mo-lo-ya (Malaya) mountain, with its lofty cliffs and ridges and deep valleys and gullies, on which were sandal, camphor and other trees. To the east of this was Pu-ta-lo-ka (Potalaka) mountain with steep narrow paths over its cliffs and gorges in irregular confusion…” ‘

All of this is still true; Hsuen Tsang’s description could easily be of contemporary Sabarimala. The only difference perhaps is that the forests are no longer so dense. Pilgrims believe that those who ignore the strict penances — abstinence from alcohol, smoking, meat-eating and sex — are in danger of being attacked by wild animals while on their trek. However, there are not too many large animals in these forests any more, as a result of human encroachment.

Lokesh Chandra continues: ‘Hsuen Tsang clearly says that Avalokitesvara at Potala sometimes takes the form of Isvara (Siva) and sometimes that of a Pasupata yogin. In fact, it was Siva who was metamorphosed into Avalokitesvara…The image at Potalaka which was originally Siva, was deemed to be Avalokitesvara when Buddhism became dominant… The Potalaka Lokesvara and the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara have echoes of Siva and Vishnu, of Hari and Hara.’

‘…Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala… could have been the Potala Lokesvara of Buddhist literature. The makara jyoti of Sabarimala recalls Potala’s “brilliance”… The long, arduous and hazardous trek through areas known to be inhabited by elephants and other wildlife to Sabarimala is spoken of in the pilgrimage to Potala Lokesvara. The Buddhist character of Ayyappa is explicit in his merger with Dharma-sasta. Sasta is a synonym of Lord Buddha.’

Thus, the history of Sabarimala is to some extent a microcosm of the religious history of India. It is interesting that there are connections between Kerala, in the deep South, and Ladakh/Zanskar in the far North, where the last of the Tibetan Buddhists practise their religion unmolested.

Those devout Ayyappan pilgrims in their dark clothes symbolising the abandonment of their egos, who flock to the hill temple in the cool winter months, are thus, in a way, celebrating two of the great religious streams of Mother India: both the Hindu present and the Buddhist past.

Source: https://www.rediff.com/news/dec/31rajeev.htm

Some people may get offended after knowing that Sabarimala was once a Buddhist shrine. But in our culture, only ignorant people have problems with names and forms. Wise people didn’t even hesitate to consider Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. In fact, Dharmasastha is nothing but an union of Shiva as Avalokiteshvara and Vishnu as Buddha! It is very important to note here that Buddha didn’t allow women in his community. So for many centuries, Buddhist monks went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Avalokiteshvara in Sabarimala and young women were not a part of this pilgrimage.

Pothigai hills near Tirunelveli was once a hub of Mahayana Buddhism. It interacted with Shaivism and Saktha traditions and absorbed many deities. While Hindu texts show that sage Agastya learnt Tamil from Lord Shiva, Buddhist text maintain that Agastya learnt Tamil from Avalokiteshvara. Also, one of the forms of Avalokiteshvara is Goddess Chandika who is called as Cundi in Buddhism. Here is the image of Cundi:

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(Image source: Wikipedia)

You can compare this form with the Hindu Goddess Chandi:

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(Image source: Wikipedia)

It is interesting that Parashurama, who was a devotee of Chandika lived in Pothigai hills too, which I have explained in this answer: Shanmugam P’s answer to What is Tripura Rahasya?. Parashurama is also believed to have constructed the temple in Sabarimala. It is interesting to note that Parshurama is connected to both Chandika (which is a form of Avalokiteshvara in Buddhism) and Sabari Mala. This also gives strength to the theory that Sabari Mala has got something to do with Avalokiteshvara.

The consecration of Avalokiteshvara as Dharma sastha must have happened during the time when Mahayana Buddhism and Hindu sects existed in harmony. Just like there are ignorant people now who fight over petty issues, there must have been people who fought over such differences back then. The myths were created to pacify them.

Pothigai hills are called as Mount Potala in Buddhism. People who wanted to go to pilgrimage to Sabarimala had to go through Pothigai hills since there is a ghat there. The same ghat has been used by the buses now to go to Sabarimala. In Buddhist literature, Pothigai hills and Sabarimala are collectively called as Mount Potala.

Pilgrimage to Potala began in about the 1th century CE although records are very scant. Both of the great Tamil Buddhist epics, the Maṇimegala and the Cilappatikanam mention pilgrims going to Mount Potala. The Mahāyānist poet and philosopher Candragomin went there by ship and is said to have spent his last years on the mountain. He wrote his most famous work, the Śisyaleaka, while there and gave it to some merchants to pass to his disciples in northern India. When the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang was in Nalanda in the 7th century he met a brahmin who had made a vow to worship a statue of Avalokiteśvara which was on the top of Potala, a vow he had been able to fulfill. This statue was believed to be the bodhisattva’s exact likeness. Later, Hiuen Tsiang travelled through south India and although he was unable to visit Potala himself he left this description of it based on what others had told him. “To the east of the Malaya Mountains is Mount Potala. The passes on the mountain are very dangerous, its sides are precipitous and its valleys rugged. On the top of the mountain is a lake, its waters as clear as a mirror. From a grotto preceeds a great river which encircles the mountain twenty times as it flows down to the southern sea. By the side of the lake is a rock palace of the gods. Here Avalokiteśhvara in coming and going takes his abode. Those who strongly desire to see him disregarding their lives and fording the streams, climb the mountain forgetful of its difficulties and dangers. Of those who make the attempt there are very few who reach the summit. But even if those who dwell below the mountain earnestly prey to behold the bodhisattva, he appears to them sometimes as Isvara, sometimes in the form of a yogi, and addresses them with benevolent words and then they obtain their wishes according to their desires.” This description is clearly a blend of fact and fiction, something about Potala that increased as time went by. Gradually the sacred mountain came to be seen as a kind of magical fairy land, a paradise where rare medical herbs and exquisite flowers grew, where mythological animals frolicked and where those blessed enough to be reborn in Avalokiteśhvara’s presence abided in bliss.

Source: https://dhammawiki.com/index.php/Mount_Potala

So, what happened when Manikanda lived? Manikandan rediscovered a path to Sabari Mala and also went and meditated in the manimandapam. It is only after Manikandan, the pilgrimage to Sabarimala became easier! All devotees today (who go to Sabarimala by following a proper procedure including wearing mala and practicing austerities for a mandala) are going through the same path that Manikandan once rediscovered and went through! Manikandan himself was a devotee of Avalokiteshvara who attained Moksha.

But the issue that has happened today has actually led to something good. It has given reasons for people to explore the real concept behind Sabarimala pilgrimage. It has reminded us about the importance of Sabarimala.

So, should women between the age 10–50 allowed inside the shrine of Sabarimala? We need to ask women what they want to do and we have two options to choose from:

  1. Since Sabarimala pilgrimage is an unique Sadhana for men that requires staying away from women and since women do not need such Sadhana, the correct reasons should be properly explained in court instead of stating rubbish reasons like ‘It will spoil the Brahmacharya of Ayyappa’. This may cause the court to revise its judgement.
  2. If women or court really insist that young women should be also allowed, then women should be allowed to go there during a different season with full protection when men are not allowed. So men can practice 41 days of austerities as usual and go to Sabarimala during January; women of age group 10–50 can practice austerities for probably a lesser number of days (for. e.g. one week) and go to Sabarimala during the month of April when the shrine opens for Vishu. Thus, allowing men and women during different seasons can help devotees to resolve the issue without disturbing the spiritual practice that they do. I am pretty sure that Agamas are not very strict and they are liberal enough to make such provisions. Even if people are scared of any negative consequences, I am sure that there should be pariharams done for that! Our agamas are very rich and they certainly have room for many customizations.

It is very important to set our emotions aside and think. Causing violence and chaos in the name of saving a temple or a deity has got nothing to do with spirituality.

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The Sculpture – Poem

sculpture

 

Your DNA is sculpted

by nature…

 

You as an individual is

then sculpted by the nurture of

the society and the environment.

 

The sculpture is

continuously being sculpted

at your every step.

 

When you allow yourself to be sculpted

without any resistance and

fully surrender to the reality,

one day there will be

nothing left to be sculpted!

 

Then you will realize that

the sculptor, the sculpting

and the sculpture are one!

 

The Truth is one, without two…

But wise people call it by many names!

 

– Shanmugam P

 

Bhavacakra – The Wheel Of Life: Infographics

Bhavacakra or Bhavachakra, known as the wheel of life is painted in the Buddhist temples in Tibet and India. It is a symbolic representation of the wheel of life.

Here is the gist of Bhavacakra:

  1. Ignorance of mistaking non-self as self-leads to aversion and attachments.
  2.  This, in turn, leads to volition, action and the pleasant or unpleasant consequences of the actions.
  3.  Depending on the consequences, a person enjoys or suffers the fruits of his action.
  4. The 12 nidanas give a clear picture of dependent origination. It states that everything is interconnected with various casual links. Nirvana or liberation is the only thing which is not affected by dependent origination.
  5. The five aggregates are impermanent and clinging to them causes suffering.
  6. There is a way to get liberated. It is called as eightfold path.

This is a mandala and can be used for meditation. To know more about the mandalas, read the following posts:

(I will make a detailed video about this shortly. Subscribe to my Youtube channel to watch the videos in time: http://bit.ly/shanmugamy )

Bhavacakra Mandala

Bhavacakra Mandala

Here are some useful infographics which give the details about various aspects of Bhavacakra mandala.

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(You can also interpret these realms as the periods of your current life. For example, a person might be in any of the following realms for a few months:

Sometimes we are like devas, very happy and pleased;

Sometimes like asuras, even though happy we don’t feel content and this leads to craving, attachment and aversion;

Sometimes like humans, being more responsible and showering love to friends, families and others;

Sometimes like animals, just eating and sleeping;

Sometimes like a hungry ghost, deprived of our needs and feel totally dissatisfied, frustrated and helpless;

Sometimes like beings of the hell, going through extreme suffering that seems to be endless.

The idea is to convey that none of these states are permanent and a proper spiritual practice is the only way to find permanent bliss in life.)

 

2

 

3

Talks on Spiritual Enlightenment – Videos On The Spiritual Path and Traditions

 

I have started uploading videos on Youtube on a regular basis, in order to help spiritual seekers who are truly seeking self-realization. I would like to inform this to the regular readers of this blog so that they can take advantage of it.

Here are some of the recent videos that I have uploaded:

Videos regarding Spiritual Enlightenment:

Sadhana Chatushtaya  – Fourfold Qualifications for a Spiritual Seeker

The following video addressed a very important but forgotten concept in non-dual traditions. I have given a detailed speech regarding ‘Sadhana Chatushtaya’ and I will be soon writing a post regarding that.

Conversations About Spiritual Enlightenment 

This is a series and it has casual talks addressing spiritual seekers regarding various topics. These speeches address the friends I have, who have been reading this blog and my Quora answers. This video series will address many things discussed in this blog, including some questions asked by the readers regarding the spiritual path and spiritual enlightenment.

There are some older videos too. You can watch them on my Youtube Channel here:

Shanmugam’s Youtube Channel

Gems Of Wisdom From Various Self-Realized Masters – Infrographics

Just a short info-graphic I made which includes the quotes of Lao Tzu, Buddha, Ashtavakra, Ramana Maharshi, Osho, and Meister Eckhart.. The quotes are direct pointers to the non-dual truth. For more quotes, visit this page: Inspiring Quotes of Lao Tzu, Buddha and Many Others.

spiritual quotes2

The Truth About Yantras, Chakras, Temples, Tantra and Agamas

A Yantra is nothing but a map for meditation. The map can be used externally to build temples and internally to practice Yoga. A Yantra represents something called a Mandala.

Here is a raw skeleton of a simple Mandala:

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If you want to construct a room only for meditation (certain Tantric meditations that I will discuss shortly), you can construct a beautiful room with this map. The circle at the center is a place for an idol or a statue. This statue itself should be designed in a way so that each aspect of the statue represents a deep meaning. This central idol is surrounded by three small idols around it. The idea behind such a place is to create an emotional association with meditation by decorating this room, playing melodious songs, by making it a practice to take bath before entering the room etc. When you meditate in this place every day, just looking at the map or mandala can trigger a meditative feeling in you or make you ready to meditate. It can capture your attention in a minute and change your thought flow to something that is advantageous to meditation. This works based on something called ‘classical conditioning’.

If you want another example for classical conditioning, then do this: think about the days when you fall in love for the first time, wear the same kind of perfume that you were wearing in those days and listen to the song that you heard often those days. It will remind you of those beautiful days. This can be used to your own advantage. This is the science behind Yantras and temples. It is based on psychology, not based on physics or chemistry.

There is also a kind of meditation that you would do with these yantras and the temples modeled using Yantras. Let me first give you a model of another simple Yantra here:

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It has four surrounding deities instead of 3. This was actually the very common form of design when people started to use these things in the very beginning. Because these four surrounding deities represent four directions. Almost all religious groups in ancient India including a lot of folk religious practices had deities for directions. These deities were simply absorbed into Tantric practices as devices. This also helped those religious practitioners to convert their superstitious religious sentiments to a psychological device.

Here is an example of Vajrapani mandala in Vajrayana Buddhism following the same model:

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First, I will explain how you meditate based on this Yantra. You have to visualize yourself as the central deity and visualize the four deities of four directions as the extensions of yourself. This is the basis of Vajrayana and Tantric meditations. With more practice, you can visualize the mandala quite accurately.

You can make it more effective by constructing a temple using this mandala. When you fill the temple with unique sense perceptions like lamps, smell of camphor and flowers, chants etc and keep the place free from other distractions, then doing tantric meditations in such a place will gradually associate all these sense perceptions with meditation itself. So, an exposure to even one of this sense perception will be helpful to a great extent by changing the course of your thought stream and making it inclined towards meditation.

The energy you feel when you enter such a place comes from your own body and not from the mandala. Because a rush of emotions certainly affects your body as much it affects your mind. (When a teacher enters a noisy classroom on the day when you forgot to do your homework, does the energy of sudden fear you feel come from the teacher or happen in your own body?).

During the Vedic period, there were no temples or idols. Temples emerged as the result of people who started practicing these meditations in the late 1st millennium BC, probably a couple of centuries after the period of Buddha. Almost all Shiva temples are built with Shaiva Agamas and all Vishnu temples are built with Pancharatra or Vaikhanasa agamas, which are Tantric agamas that deal with these things in detail. (Sri Ramanuja played a major role in promoting Pancharatra. He replaced Vaikhanasa with Pancharatra in Sri Rangam temple and most of the other temples too. Tirupati temple is an example of the temple which follows Vaikhanasa agamas).

The beauty of such mandalas is that, the people who created it made sure that each aspect of it has a deep spiritual meaning. So, this accomplishes another purpose as well, by acting as mnemonic devices. When you understand how it works, you can take advantage of all the benefits it offers.

For example, Pancharatra has a concept of Viyuha in which there are four deities: Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. Here, Vasudeva represents the Purusha or Shiva or the absolute; Sankarshana represents Prakriti or Shakthi; Pradyumna represents the mind (your likes and dislikes) and Aniruddha represents ahamkara (ego). In some tantric texts, nine deities are used instead of four: (1) Vāsudeva, (2) Saṅkarṣaṇa, (3) Pradyumna, (4) Aniruddha, (5) Nārāyaṇa, (6) Nṛsiṁha, (7) Hayagrīva, (8) Mahāvarāha, and (9) Brahmā.

But just buying a Yantra and keeping it in the home will do nothing. You need to understand what each aspect of Yantra represents and use it for meditation after completely understanding the design, the purpose and the pointers that the Yantra represents. Because all these are psychological.

But there is another purpose for Yantras which is the most important one. After some point, you should start seeing your own body and mind representing a Yantra. You understand yourself as a living temple and locate each deity at a particular place in your body.

shatkona

Let us take the above image as an example. This is a Shatkona, my favorite one. The symbol has two triangles.

  1. The regular triangle represents the absolute and each side of it represents Sat, Chit, and Ananda which means truth, consciousness, and bliss.
  2. The inverted triangle represents Prakriti and her three states or qualities: Sattva (balance), Rajas (activity), Tamas (inertia or lethargy).

The union of these two triangles represents the union of Purusha and Prakriti, which is actually the essence of non-duality. So, this star is a perfect symbol of spiritual enlightenment itself.

If I have to use this mandala for a temple, then I would need 7 deities, one for the central deity and 6 for the surrounding ones. If I were to internalize these 7 deities then I would need 7 locations in the body. When you are in a cross-legged sitting position, how would you divide your whole body starting from your butt to your head into 7?

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This is how you can do it. There is no other way! This is the truth about chakras.

Do you know that initially there were only 4 Chakras and not 7? I will tell you why.

Before the common era and during the late first millennium BC, there was no concept of chakras. But people did have a concept about Nadis. They thought that there is a Sushumna Nadi in the center. People believed that when a person dies, his spirit exits through one of the nine holes of the body. They also believed that if the spirit goes upwards through Shushumna Nadi and exits the body by breaking the top of the head, he will go to heaven. That sounded reasonable to them because if the heaven is somewhere above, then spirit should move upwards. Many texts talk about voluntarily moving the soul or spirit through Shushumna Nadi at the time of the death to make sure that the person reaches the heaven. They called this practice Utkranti. Utkranti was also used to mean traveling from one body to another. It is this Utkranti which is called as Mahasamadhi in modern days.

The concept of chakras actually emerged much later. Chakras are just an attempt to internalize the locations and deities of a mandala or a yantra. It developed just a 1000 or 1200 years before, between 8th century AD to 10th century AD.

  1. Hevajra Tantra, one of the Buddhist tantric texts during the period of 8th century AD talks about just 4 chakras. The reason they chose four is quite obvious. It is because most of the early Tantric mandalas were based on four directions and assigning 4 deities to each direction. In Buddhist tantras, the following four deities called ‘four heavenly kings’ were used in meditations. The concept is same as the four forms used in Pancharatra. So, during 8th century AD, they internalized these four deities as four chakras in the body.

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2. Kaulajnananirnaya which contains the core teachings of Matsyendranath describes a system of 11 chakras. This text is also from the same time period. Please note that Matsyendranath is one of the yogis who is quoted by Sadhguru often. But Sadhguru himself doesn’t know that Matsyendranath talked about 11 chakras and not 7.

3. Abhinavagupta, a great mystic of Kashmir Shaivism had adopted a five chakra model.

4. Sat Chakra Nirupana, another Tantric text talks about a six chakra model.

This is how slowly the system evolved into the current system of seven chakras. They are conceptual and were only meant for visualizations. But it is this concept of Chakras which has become a huge business in the world today.

Here is a picture of Kali Yantra:

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First of all, What do these 36 corners represent?

During 8th – 6th century BC, people were interested in going inward to find a way out of suffering. When they explored and enumerated the contents of the consciousness, each sect or group of monks came with different numbers as indivisible entities of one’s conscious field… Buddha came with five and called it five aggregates. Vedanta also came up with five and called it five koshas. Samkhya came with 24 units or tattvas by including sense perceptions, sense organs, organs of actions (hands, legs, speech, excretion, reproduction) and five elements. This way of enumerating the contents of consciousness and coming up with these basic units continued for about 1500 years. Kashmir Shaivism, which is the youngest of all ( which has influenced Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev a lot ) came with 36 basic units. They are called as 36 tattvas. The 36 corners of this yantra represent 36 tattvas.

Each unit was like an atom of the internal world. Vaisheshika, a school of thought in India is called as atomism because it enumerated the contents of consciousness this way and divided them to inseparable things called ‘anu’. But this has been greatly misunderstood by people. There are people who think that these anus/atoms are the actual atoms that we study in Physics.. No, not at all!

Let me explain how this enumeration works. Let us say you look at a tree. You can explore the tree and enumerate its units by dividing the tree into its parts, narrowing down to its molecules, atoms, electrons and quantum particles.

But this is not what we do in spiritual practice. In spiritual path, this is how people see it:

1)When you look at a tree, there is a perception of a form. But where does this perception happen? It happens within the field of consciousness. So, a visual sense perception is actually one of the 36 units.

2)This visual perception is accomplished through eyes, hence eye as a sense organ is also one of the 36 units.

3)Is what is perceived a solid, liquid, gas, the heat which reacts with these three or the empty space in which it occurs? It is a perception of a solid structure. And this solid nature is made as one of the 36 units too, making it as one of the Panchabhutas.

4)Now, what kind of feeling does this perception create in the consciousness? It may create like, dislike or a neutral feeling. This is called manas and it is also one of the 36 units.

5)Does this perception trigger a memory? Oh yes… So memory or Chitta is also one of the 36.

6) What did I use to discriminate all these things? I used my intellect. So intellect or Buddhi is also one of the units.

7) Who is doing all this? It is just happening but it gives you an illusion that ‘you’ as a personal entity separate from the existence is doing it. This is ego or Ahankara is also one of the 36.

This way, people enumerated the contents of consciousness which was helpful for them to discriminate between the awareness and the contents of awareness.

So, this enumeration has got nothing to do with physics or chemistry as many people tend to believe. It is a process of deep investigation of the contents of the field of your conscious subjective experience itself.

The central Bindhu in the Kali Yantra or the central Linga in the Linga Bhairavi yantra represents the Atman, witness or your true nature. The 5 inverted triangle around the Bindu represents the Vedantic way of enumeration which is 5 koshas. They represent your body, breath, your mind, intellect and experience/bliss.

The eight lotuses represent Prakriti or nature and symbolize another way of enumeration. The eight things are solid, liquid, gas, heat, space, activity, inertia and balance. This is a bit outward focused and was probably added to symbolize the nature as we observe it through our five senses. A meditation using this Yantra will require a very complicated visualization.

I can go on and on and explain why Yantras have played a very important role in the spiritual history and how useful it is in meditation. Because using a Yantra has multiple purposes:

1)Taking advantage of classical conditioning and easily get into a meditative state.

2) Mnemonics to remember certain core pointers.

3) A map to construct temples.

4) Helps in the ‘doing’ oriented meditation like Shamatha, Ashtanga yoga etc because of the requirement of complex visualizations.

5)Prepares the ground for ‘non-doing’ oriented meditation: self-inquiry/mindfulness. This is the most important part. Everything that is done in a spiritual path is done to prepare oneself to the direct approach towards spiritual liberation.

When a seeker asked Ramana Maharshi about Shri Yantra, he replied very beautifully with no mumbo jumbo or nonsense:

Talk 405.
19th April 1937

A respectable and orthodox gentleman asked about Sri Chakra.

Ramana Maharishi: It has a deep significance. There are 43 corners with sacred
syllables in them. Its worship is a method for concentration of
mind. The mind is wont to move externally. It must be checked
and turned within. Its habit is to dwell on names and forms,
for all external objects possess names and forms. Such names
and forms are made symbolic mental conceptions in order to
divert the mind from external objects and make it dwell within
itself. The idols, mantras, yantras, are all meant to give food to
the mind in its introvert state, so that It may later become capable
of being concentrated, after which the superb state is reached
automatically.

I recently wrote a detailed post on my blog by making use of all the concepts used in Tantric meditations. You can read it here: A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning

It is about a 3-level meditation that also includes a Yantra, but a visually appealing one:

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