Virtues of Bhagavan

Prayers go up and blessings come down

Each Yuga prescribes certain things to get blessings of Lord or Bhagavan. In Krta yuga or Satya Yuga, more emphasis was given to Dhyana alone. In Treta Yuga, all Vaidika karmas like Yajnas were emphasized. In Dvapara Yuga, Pujas and Archanas were prescribed. In fact, Dhyana is more difficult than Yajna and Yajna is more difficult than Archana as it involves Niyamas and Nishedhas. But in Kali Yuga, one can gain the same result of all the three Sadhanas just by doing one Sadhana alone and that is praising and singing the glory of Lord or Bhagavan.

Praising of immortal
Bhagavan alone is prescribed in our scriptures, as praising anyone other than
Bhagavan is subjected to Shadvikaras- Jayate (birth), Asti (exists), Vardhate
(growth), VipariNamate (undergoes modification), Apakshiyate (declines) and
Vinashyati (death).

One who has strength or bala, is known as Balavan. The one who has quality or Guna, is known as Gunavan. One who has wealth or Dhana is known as Dhanavan. Similarly, one who has Bhaga is called Bhagavan. The word Bhaga is traditionally understood as six-fold virtues in absolute measure. They are Jnana- all knowledge, Vairagya- total dispassion, Virya- all power, Yashas- all fame, Sri- all wealth.

So Bhagavan is
everything and praising and singing about the glory of that lord is sure to
bestow whatever is wished for.


Ghats of Varanasi (Part I)

1. Ghats of Varanasi

Varanasi or Kaashi is an
ancient town also mentioned in Rig Veda. The etymology of the word Kaashi is
from the Sanskrit verbal root Kaash means to shine, meaning Kaashi as the city
of light or a luminous city of knowledge and learning.

The town Varanasi is located in between the river Varuna at the Northern side and river Assi on the Southern side. These two rivers, Varuna and Assi meet river Ganga at Raj Ghat and Assi ghat respectively. Hence the name Varanasi meaning the town between Varuna and Assi.

2. Map of Varanasi ghats

Ghats of Varanasi is one
of the most popular destination for tourists and pilgrims. Ghats are located on
the western bank of river Ganga and has steps to reach from the road. There are
more than 80 Ghats in Varanasi and most of them are very old. Ghats were built
after 17th century AD by Marathas, Sindhiyas, Holkars, Bhonsles and others.

Ghats are used for mostly
bathing, to perform ceremonies, worshiping, boating and also for washing clothes.
Some of the ghats have old and popular temples which can be accessed easily
through the ghats, rather than roads, as roads are narrow and confusing.

One probably needs more than a day to see all the ghats and temples located in the vicinity of ghats. The ghats starts from the base of Mogul Sarai bridge known as Raj ghat and ends at Assi Ghat.

3. Raj ghat (Fort)

Raja ghat (fort) is below
the Mogul Sarai Bridge. River Varuna meets Ganga here. There is one more Raja
Ghat between Pande ghat and Narad ghat. To avoid confusion, it is better to
suffix fort otherwise one will be directed to Raj ghat, where there are no
temples.

This ghat is serene and is not crowded. It has two temples-  Keshav aditya and Nakshatreshwara temples.

4. Keshav

Keshav aditya temple is quite clean, not crowded and serene.

5. Aditya

As per the references from mythology, once Surya Bhagavan saw Lord Vishnu worshiping Shiva linga in Varanasi. He was astonished because, Vishnu himself is worshipped by all in the world and how come he is worshipping Shiva linga. So Surya Bhagavan came down and asked Lord Vishnu about his worshipping Shiva linga. Lord Vishnu explained Surya Bhagavan the greatness of worshipping Shiva Linga at Varanasi. Pleased by Vishnu's explanation, Surya Bhagavan also started worshipping Shiva linga at this place. Hence the name Keshav aditya.

6. Nakshatreshwara temple

Below Keshav aditya
temple, facing the river Ganga, is the Nakshatreshwara temple. It is serene,
clean and hass a good view of River Ganga.

As per the legend, long ago, sixty beautiful girls worshipped Lord Shiva here by installing a Linga called Nakshatreshwara. Pleased by their worship, Lord Shiva appeared and fulfilled their wishes and made them to stay in the celestial world.

7. Gai ghat

Between Raj ghat and Gai ghat, there are Ravi Ghat, Prahlad ghat, Naya ghat, Telia ghat and Gola ghat which are used mainly to wash clothes and does not have any important temples.

Gai ghat has one of the Bhairav Temples called Samhar Bhairav.

8. Samhar Bhairav Temple            9. Interior of Samhar Bhairav temple

Samhar Bhairav is also mentioned in Kashi khand.

10. Samhar Bhairav idol

It is also mentioned in that Samhar Bhairav has come from Bhairav Kshetra and is believed to cleanse the sins of the devotees.

11. Durga Ghat

Durga ghat is one of the most popular Ghat and was built in 1772 by a saintly person named Narayan Dixit. Durga ghat is popular for its Brahmacharini Durga Temple, which is one among the Navadurga temples. 

12. Brahmacharini Durga temple                        13. Brahmacharini Durga

Brahmacharini Durga in her
previous birth was the daughter of Himalaya. Sage Narada advised her to undergo
rigorous penance to get Shiva as her husband. She did a rigorous penance and
finally Shiva was pleased and took her as his wife. Hence she is also known as
Tapascharani. She blesses her devotees fulfilling all their wishes.


Virtues of Guru

The Hindu scriptures are invariably
cryptic. One has to know the proper way of analysing the scriptures by the
following means: 

  • Vyakarana (Grammer)- which gives the meaning of word viz. Pada artha
  • Mimamsa- which gives the meaning of sentence viz. Vakya artha
  • Tarka- Logic

Even after following the above means,
if the primary meaning (vaachyartha) does not give proper meaning, then
secondary meaning (lakshyaartha) or implied meaning is considered. Even for implied
meaning, three special methods are prescribed:

Jahal lakshana- literal meaning is
rejected and some other meaning is adopted. Ex: Hamlet on Ganga means
Hamlet on the banks of river Ganga.

Ajahal lakshana- without giving up
literal meaning, what is implied is adopted. Ex: Red is running means
Red horse is running.

Jahadajahal lakshana- Bhaagatyaaga
lakshana, Part is rejected and part is retained. 
Ex: This is that Devadatta- this Devadatta is the same person whom we had seen
in last village. With the help of all the above methods, a Guru extracts the
essence of scriptures supported by his wisdom. That is the reason why one
should learn our scriptures from a qualified guru, who would have used all the
above methods and his wisdom to analyze the shastra. So it is believed that
Guru enlivens in shastra.

The present Guru would have learnt from his guru and that guru from his guru, finally to Shankaracharya, Guru Govinda pada, Gaudapada Acharya, Shuka, Shaunaka, Sanatkumara to finally Sadashiva or Dakshina Murthy for Shaivites and Hayagriva for Vaishnavites.

The meaning of Dakshina murthy can be
derived in two ways: 

  • Murthy (deity) facing the southern direction. Usually no deity faces
    south as Yama the God of mrityu (death) is found in southern direction. Since
    Dakshina murthy faces south and is unafraid of Yama, he is also called
    Mrithyunj
  • The Word Dakshina murthy is divided as Dakshin and Amurthy. In sanskrit
    dakshin means expert and amurthy is formless. So he is a formless expert.

On the day of Guru poornima, Sanyasis
perform special poojas to entire guru parampara beginning with the lord to
one’s own guru, and commence their Chaturmasa vratam. During this period, a
Sanyasi resides in one place for four months as it coincides with rainy season.
Now with some the period is reduced to two months viz. Chatushpaksha (four
fortnights).

In a Guru parampara, Vyasacharya is
looked upon as the most revered Guru. He is considered to be an avatara of lord
Vishnu. The word Vyasa means compiler of Vedas. He has compiled, classified and
elaborated vedas. So even though entire Guru parampara is worshipped on Guru
poornima, it is also known as Vyasa puja day. Guru poornima is important not
only for Sanyasis but also for spiritual seekers who seriously study vedanta. The
importance of paying salutations to Guru on this day is to invoke grace:

  • To consistently practise Sravanam, Mananam and Nidhidhyasanam viz.
    scriptural study under a guru, doubt removal and assimilation of knowledge.
  • To acquire qualifications mentioned in the Vedas needed for Sravanam, Mananam and Nidhidhyasanam. The qualifications are four fold known as Sadhana chatushtaya sampatti, denoted by 4D’s. They are Viveka (Discrimination), Vairagya (Dispassion), Samadhi Shatsampatti (six fold Disciplines) and Mumukshutvam (Desire for liberation).

However much one reads by himself,
will not be able to know the subject correctly. Hence one has to learn from
Guru alone to understand the subject properly. Self reading is like reading a
map and while guru is like a compass. So similar to compass, Guru shows the
direction. It is the responsibility of the student to grasp the knowledge if
not it would be like blaming the map and compass for not reaching a
destination.

A Guru is like a farmer who sows the
seeds, applies manure and waters the field uniformly, but only few seeds
germinate. Here the problem is in seed and not the farmer for not germinating.
Similarly only few students flourish and rest may not, for which a Guru cannot
be blamed. 
Hence the Vedic phrase Tamasomaa Jyothirgamaya (darkness to light) is
attributed to the wisdom of Guru.


Muni Yajnavalkya (Vaajasaneya)

Muni Yajnavalkya is a well known Acharya in
Vedas. He was bestowed with great wisdom right from his childhood. When he was
learning Krishna Yajurveda in acharya Vaishampayana’s Gurukula, his questions
would corner the guru himself most of the times. Once, after getting cornered
by Yajnavalkya, Guru Vaishampayana got so enraged that he ordered the shishya
to leave his Gurukula at once and return all the Krishna Yajur Veda he had
taught. Poor Yajnavalkya had no choice and obediently vomited out in bits and
pieces all the Krishna Yajur Veda he had learnt. The classmates knew the great
wisdom of Yajnavalkya and they thought the vomited bits of Krishna Yajur Veda
will have highly assimilated knowledge and if they consume it, they could
easily get wisdom of Krishna Yajur Veda instantaneously. But as humans, one
cannot eat vomitus, hence they turned themselves into Partridge or Baka Pakshi
or Tittiria bird, which is known to eat everything, and consumed all the bits
and pieces of vomitus. After that they turned back as humans. In course of
time, they propagated Krishna Yajur Veda, since they got the knowledge by
converting themselves to the bird Tittiria, it is known to be called as Krishna
Yajur Veda Tittiria Samhita.

Poor Yajnavalkya, after losing all the
knowledge, goes and prays to Surya Bhagavan. Pleased by his devotion, Sun God
himself imparts knowledge of Yajur Veda. That was known as Shukla Yajur Veda.
It is also known as Vaajasaneya Samhita. Vaaja means rice or food, vaajasa
means provider of food (Surya) and Vaajasaneya means son of Surya Bhagavan.
Yajnavalkya was considered as Son of Surya Bhagavan as he was the direct
student of sun god.

The most popular and vast Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad belongs to Shukla Yajur Veda. It is known to contain whatever other
Upanishads have. It has 3 sections – Madhu Kandam, Muni Kandam and Khila
Kandam. The mid section is called Muni Kandam, because it contains mainly
Yajnavalkya’s teachings. Ishavasya Upanishad also belongs to Shukla Yajur Veda.

One can get to know the depth of
Yajnavalkya’s knowledge by studying Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.


Vaikunta Dwaram – Vedantic Perspective

Vedas and Upanishads (especially
Prashna and Aithireya) mentions about Shukla Patha (pure or bright path) and
Krishna Patha (dark path). Shukla patha leads to Indra yoni (gat)e at Solar
disc (vaikunta dwaram), through which Vaikunta Loka could be reached. There is
a special Naadi (channel) from the base of soft palate in the mouth from the
center of Uvula going upto Brahmarandra (at vortex of skull). From this Brahma
randra, the shukla patha starts. All these paths and channels are at subtle
(shukshma) level and are not visible anatomically. Whereas the Krishna patha
(dark path) leads to Hiranya Gharba and this path can be reached by any channel
in the body.

So when a Gnyani dies, his Jiva
(soul) leaves his body through this subtle channel from Uvula to Brahmarandra,
which opens automatically into shukla patha. His Soul passes through Indra yoni
at solar disc and enters Vaikunta. From there gnyani’s soul goes to Brahma loka
and gets the final Brahma gnanam from Brahmaji himself and attains moksha.

When an Agnyani or a common man dies,
his soul would leave his body from any one of the channels of the body and
enters Krishna patha and goes to Hiranyagharbha only to return back to next
birth, depending on his prarabda karma. 
All the above channels mentioned are at subtle levels and nobody can open it
manually. Most popular Vaikunta dwara opening on Vaikunta ekadashi is based on
this vedantic / philosophical basis


Uddhava Gita / Hamsa Gita

Srimad Bhagavatha, in its 11th
chapter (Ekadasha skanda) depicts Lord Krishna’s last days. From 6th to 29th
chapters there is a narration of Uddhava Gita which is taught by Lord Krishna
himself to Uddhava. 
During the end of Krishnaavatara, Yadavas had become very arrogant and
egoistic. Once sage Agastya along with his followers came to Dwaraka to visit
Krishna. Yadavas driven by arrogance and ignorance, planned to humiliate the
sages. So they said Saamba (Krishna’s son) to pretend as a pregnant woman and
came to the Sages to seek their blessings and requested them to predict the sex
of the child. The enlightened sages visualized the reality and cursed the
Yadavas that this person would deliver an iron bolt which would destroy the
entire Yadava dynasty and went away.

Frightened by the curse they went to
king Akrura and Lord Krishna, who in turn told them to cut the iron bolt into
tiny pieces and throw it in the ocean. Then Krishna advised Yadavas to go to Prabhas
(in Gujarat) and spend rest of their short lives with Bhajans and Satsang. So
they all left for Prabhas. While walking on the grass grown on beach, they
started fighting among themselves. They hit each other with the grass which
they plucked from its root. It so happened that the iron filings thrown into
the sea by Yadavas had drifted to the shore at Prabhas and had got stuck to the
roots of the grass. Obviously once Yadavas hit each other with grass, the iron
filings got stuck to their bodies and all of them died on the spot.

Lord Krishna in Dwaraka came to know
about the death of Yadavas and realized that his time also came to an end. So
when he got prepared to leave, Uddhava, Krishna’s childhood friend and also his
charioteer at times was deeply in sorrow. Looking at his best friend in grief,
Krishna started preaching Vedanta to him. This was called Uddhava Gita. Krishna
mentioned that he had taught this earlier in his previous avataras. Immediately
Uddhava asked about Krishna’s previous avataras and to whom he had taught.
Krishna replied that "once Brahma’s children- Sanat kumaras, who were born
first, went to their father and asked about a doubt which they had in
Philosophy. They were believed to be born Sanyasis. Unfortunately even Brahma did
not know the answer, so he meditated upon Lord Vishnu and after some time,
Vishnu appeared in the form of a Hamsa or white Swan and asked Brahma and Sanat
Kumaras about their problem. Then Sanat Kumaras said that we know mind is made
of three gunas – satvika, Rajasika and Tamasika, and the world is also made up
of same three gunas, how dowe separate mind from the world. Lord Vishnu was
pleased to answer the question". Since Vishnu was in the form of Hamsa,
the teachings is also called Hamsa Gita.


Master the subject

Every student wants to study and get
expertise in the field of a subject which he or she is studying. Unfortunately
only one or two students get to become masters in the said subject but rest
would only get to become a mediocre. So it is obvious that even though a
student is interested in the subject but fail to become expert, then the
problem would lie in the student himself and not with the subject or the
teacher. To enhance the learning and retention abilities in a student and
acquire excellent knowledge in the subject, our scriptures have prescribed five
criteria:

Belief in self and self effort
Knowledge is highly dependent on self effort. Hence one should have belief in
self effort as nothing other than self effort is required to obtain knowledge.
Similarly self confidence is a must for the student. If the student lacks
confidence and looses faith in self, then no amount of teaching by a guru would
be beneficial. So the student has to pray god for a blessing with self effort
and self confidence to obtain knowledge.

Medha shakti or absorbing power
Receiving, absorbing or grasping and retaining power of mind is Medha shakti.
One who has this faculty is called Medhavi. Memory power or Medha shakti can be
improved only by serious and sincere study of the subject, similar to
increasing running or swimming power by repeated practice. So a student has to
be an active participant in class and try to assimilate the knowledge. No
amount of teacher’s efficiency would work, if the student has no absorbing
power. To enhance the Medha shakti in students our scriptures have prescribed
Sammidhadanam in Sandhyavandana, where he prays lord to bless him with Medha
shakti. A special sooktam called Medha sooktham is also presribed, where in Goddess
Saraswati is invoked to bless with Medha shakti.

Healthy relationship with guru
Relationship of a student and guru should be specially marked with shraddha and
bhakti as well as Love and respect- Love on the part of teacher and respect on
the part of student. If a student cannot understand the teaching, it is because
the student does not have the capacity to understand. It is the deficiency in
student’s grasping power and not the guru’s incapability of teaching. So a
student has to come back and repeat the study.

Gnanam or Knowledge
Finally all the above points culminate in knowledge, provided the student has
sincerely studied the subject following the above criteria.

Gnana Phalam or Benefit of knowledge
Benefit of knowledge should bring transformation in life but not mere
acquisition of qualifications. Between Gnanam and Gnana phalam, there are many
obstacles, so a student has to pray god to relieve him of obstacles. They are
in the form of emotional handicaps which are called Asuri sampatthi- kaama,
krodha, lobha, moha, mada and maathsarya. In the presence of asuri sampatahi,
though knowledge is present in the intellect, it is not available when needed.
This is because of the presence of subtle Raga and Dwesha (also known as
kashayam). A well known example is of Karna from the epic Mahabharatha. Karna
forgot the specific knowledge of combat, because he used his knowledge with
Dwesha and Mathsarya (hatred and jealousy), which are asuri sampatti, although
there is a story that he had a curse from his guru. So when a student cleanses
asuri sampatti from his mind, he can enjoy the benefit of knowledge when he
calls for. After all, what is the use of a knowledge which does not benefit a
student when it is needed!

Anyone who studies a subject by
adhering to the above criteria, he is sure to acquire the desired knowledge

The above ideology is from the most
popular Shanthi paata of Krishna Yajurveda:
Saha naavavatu saha nau bhunakthu saha veeryam karavaavahai
Tejasvi naavadheethamastu maa vidvishaavahai
Om shanthihi shanthihi shanthihi

In the above shanthi paata, a
seeker/student prays for 5 important requirements for obtaining knowledge. They
are swaprayatna- self effort, mananam- retention or memory power, gnanam or
knowledge, gnanaphalam or benefit from knowledge and a healthy relationship
with the guru.

Shanthi is chanted thrice. First
shanthi denotes peace within the mind of the student, second shanthi denotes
peace external or surrounding environment and the third shanthi denote peace
from divine forces like storms, earth quakes etc. Chanting of shanthi three
times is important because even if one of them is missing, then learning
becomes impossible.

(Extract from the talks on Shanthi
paata of Krishna Yajurveda by HH Swami Paramarthananda)


Guru Gaudapada Acharya

Guru Sri Gaudapada Acharya happens to be the Parama guru (Guru’s guru) of Sri Adi Shankara Acharya. It is believed that Gaudapada Acharya renounced his life at a very young age and went to forest in quest of spiritual knowledge. There he heard God’s voice through Nabho vaani (inner voice) advising him to go to North. So he went to Himalayas and by the grace of god, he received teachings from Shuka Muni at Badrikashrama. Details of his early life i.e exact name, parents and childhood are not very clear. He is known for writing commentary on Maandukya Upanishad. Even to this day it is known as Gaudapada Karika (commentary / Bhashya). His Maandukya Karika is known as Vedantamoola (root of philosophy). As a matter of fact, Maandukya Upanishad has only 12 verses but Gaudapada Acharya has written 215 verses commentary. He is known for elaborately explaining the illusionary nature of world (Maaya) and the reality of Brahman. Hence Gaudapada Acharya is highly revered even to this day. During his days also people revered him so much that nobody dared to call by his name, hence he was called Gaudapada Acharya – Gaudadesh means present day Bengal and Pada means feet, thus meaning Feet of a Bengali guru and hence his real name is not known at all. Around late 7th century, Guru Gaudapada Acharya along with his disciple Sri Govinda Bhagavatpada Acharya after visiting Varanasi stayed in a cave on the banks of Narmada River. During that time, an young boy named Shankara came to the entrance of the cave and Guru Govinda Bhagavatpada Acharya asked him who he was and for that young Shankara replied him through 10 Verses ending with – Shivakevaloham, which later became popular as Dasha sloki of Shankaracharya. Guru Gaudapada Acharya after listening to this comes to know that this young boy Shankara is none other than Lord Shiva himself, born to uplift Vedas and Sanatana dharma. So he instructs Govinda Bhagavatpada Acharya to accept him as his disciple and give him deeksha immediately, which he did and named him as Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada . After the completion of Vedantic studies with great teachers, Sri Shankaracharya wrote Commentary/ Bhashya on Upanishads, Srimad Bhagavat Gita and Brahmapuranas, which are popular even to this day.


Vyas Gufa- Maana Village, Badarinath, Uttarakhand, Himalayas

Maana is the last village of India,
on the border with Tibet and 3 kms from Holy Badarinath in Uttaranchal,
Himalayas. Maana is very small but beautiful. This was named after the Manasa
putras (sons) of Brahma. Maana village is inhabited by Indo- Mangolian tribes
called Bhotias. 
Maana village has many caves and among them is the famous Vyas gufa (cave). It
is believed that Vyasacharya dictated his most popular epic Mahabharata to Lord
Ganesh here. In addition to this, Vyasacharya classified Vedas into 4, namely
Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana Vedas. He has also written Brahma Sutras.

Inside the cave, there is an idol of Veda Vyasacharya and next to him is the idol of Ananda tirtha. The rock formation in the caves seems to resemble the orderly stacking of palm leaves manuscripts. 
Another popular cave is Ganesh gufa, which is about 100 meters below the Vyas gufa. Here Lord Ganesha believed to have written Mahabharatha dictated by Vyasacharya.

One km away from Vyas gufa is a small
shrine of Bala Tripurasundari, located amidst beautiful surrounding. There is a
natural bridge known as Bhim pul, where Bhima placed a huge boulder on the
river stream so that Draupadi could cross easily.

Near Bhim gufa river Saraswati,
appears only for 100 meters and disappears. It is supposed to meet rivers Ganga
and Yamuna in Sangam or confluence at Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. Even there Saraswati
is not obviously seen as she meets the other two rivers underground and hence
called Gupta gamini.

Further 3 kms uphill from Vyas gufa
is the Muchakunda gufa. A 4 km trek from Maana village leads to beautiful
Vasudhara falls, which drops from 125 meters height. 

1 km trek from Vasudhara falls on Swargarohana trek route is Keshav prayag,
which is the sangam of the rivers Alakananda and Saraswati.


Vanadurga Temple - Sringeri, Karnataka

Sri Vanadurga temple is situated
about 5 kms from Sringeri temple. It is in the midst of forest hence the name
Vanadurga. One has to take a left turn at Sringeri bus stand and drive for 4
kms to reach this temple. Local autos are also available for commuting.

Sri Adi Shankaracharya himself
consecrated the temple of Sri Durgamba to the south of Sringeri.

When there was a Plague epidemic, Sri
Sri Sacchidananda Shiva Abhinava Narasimha Bharati prayed to Durga, it is
believed that there were no cases of Plague at all.

This temple is in typical style of
Malnad architecture with wood and tiles.

It has a Navaranga and Nandi facing
Sanctum. While in Antyarala, Idols of Ganesha and Subramanya are installed.

In the Sanctum santorum (garbha griha), the beautiful devi Vanadurga is
installed by Adi Shankaracharya. Behind the devi, there is a Shiva linga,
believed to be udbhava linga by name Mallikarjuna. Origin and period of this
linga is not known. It seems the linga was there before Adi Shankaracharya’ s
arrival.