Saturday, September 22, 2012

Religion: Ganesh Poojan - Part 1 of a series by Dr Surujrattan Rambachan

GANESH POOJAN - Establishing and confirming the Hindu view that God is everywhere, that God has become creation and that creation is the greatest symbolic representation and manifestation of God’s All Pervading Nature. 
Lord Ganesh
Festivals do have very important lessons to teach. Each and every festival in the Hindu tradition is combined with symbolism. 

In fact our Rishis wrote in symbols so as to reach the minds of people who cannot reach the heights of intellectualism required to unravel the mystery of God. 

 The Ganesh festival is one that teaches in a remarkable way about the omnipresence of God. Everyone asks the question, “where is God?” Is God in some heaven, on some throne, in a far off place, high above the earth? Is God in the murtis, the icons? Is God in you, in me? The question is also asked as to how does God look? What is the form of God like? Is God fat, thin? Also, some ask whether God has a form at all. 

Indeed, Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita, says “In whatever way men approach me O Partha, they come to me.” And it is also said Ekam Sat Bipra, Bahuda Vadanti- “called by many names, existing in many forms, but the one and same God am I”.

The human mind finds it extremely difficult to conceive of God as formless, as unmanifest and to relate to a formless, unmanifest God. Human beings form relationships with people who they can see and feel and experience, touch and speak to. 

And so it is not surprising that human beings through the mental vision they have of God, objectify God by creating forms, pictures and murtis, icons to which they can more easily relate. As much as God becomes manifest for the protection of the good, for protecting righteousness, God also becomes manifest and is objectified in a particular form by human beings so that human beings can more easily relate to a personal friend.

Hindus have always known God to be everywhere, to be in and through all things. The scriptures of the Hindus loudly proclaim this. 

For example Mahatma Gandhi refers to two special verses and declares that if everything else about Hinduism were to be lost and if only these two verses remained Hinduism would survive. The first verse comes from Isa Upanishad and says:

Om Ishavasyamidam Sarvam Yatkiñcha Jagatyam Jagat
Tena Tyaktena Bhuñjitha Ma Grdhah Kasyasvid Dhanam

The Lord inhabits all this (that is perceivable)--whatever moves in this moving universe. Therefore by renunciation, you can enjoy all things. Do not covet any one's wealth.

The second verse also comes from Isa Upanishad and says:

Om Purnamadah Purnamidam Purnat Purnamudachyate
Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnameva Avashishyate
Om Shantih Shantih Shantih

That is whole, this is whole, from whole comes out of whole.

If Whole is subtracted from whole, still whole is left.'Whole’ can be replaced as ‘infinity’ also. ‘That and this’ refers to OM.

If our scriptures declare this, if our Rishi’s have experienced this, what prevents man from believing that God is here there and everywhere and then behaving in strict accordance with that belief? It is “Maya”, declares the learned ones, the Guru. 

Maya is the cause of the ignorance, ignorance being the failure to see creation as God and God as creation and to behave accordingly. Maya is a concept of change in Hinduism which says that something can undertake a new form or many forms, and yet that original something does not vanish, nor is it depleted, nor does it change. It remains full. 

Brahman has become creation but Brahman remains full. The failure to see God in creation is Maya and the role of the Guru is to help to remove this ignorance about where is God to be found. “Tat Twam Asi,” this declares the Guru, “That thou Art,” God embodied.

How does Ganesh Poojan teach this important truth so that Maya, ignorance about God’s presence can be removed? For, when ignorance of God’s presence is removed and when God is seen everywhere and in everyone, thus man’s behaviour towards human beings, to animals and to the environment would change. 

Man would behave toward all creation in a worshipful attitude and would as is also necessary act to preserve righteousness and righteous behaviour. By so believing, acting, thinking and behaving man then sets the stage for becoming perfect.

He becomes perfect firstly, by doing everything as acts of devotion to God, no matter where he is and what is his allotted duty. Secondly, because he is doing everything in a worshipful attitude with a clear vision of God as the receiver, he creates no new Karma and actually in not creating new Karma, he is able to step out of the wheel of samsara.

Life becomes a pooja and a pooja-centered set of attitudes that accompany one on life’s journey and thus frees one from Samsaara. The Ganesh Pooja is all about man’s strive for perfection through seeing God everywhere and worshipping God by way of one’s everyday actions.

How does Ganesh Pooja begin? 

It begins by fasting and by engaging in acts of internal and external purification and cleanliness, long before the actual pooja. With such a pure and clean self, the devotees go to the river to secure dirt to fashion a murti of Lord Ganesh. This murti is made as perfect as humanly possible and is worshipped and propitiated for several days, during which the life of Ganesh is discussed and meditated upon. And then, the murti is returned to the river where it is submerged in the Visarjan ceremony. 

Surely Hindus when they submerge the murti of Lord Ganesh into the river do not believe they are drowning God. What then do they believe?

In the first place, when they went to the river to obtain the dirt, whether consciously or unconsciously they somehow knew that they were bringing God, the dirt does not change, the form of the dirt changes, but the dirt is the same. The murti is regarded as God, is venerated as God, is treated as God and yet at the end it is submerged in the river. God is in creation, God is objectified, God is returned to creation. The material does not change, it may be reshaped, redone, refashioned but the essence of the material, its innate nature remains unchanged.

God (Brahman) has similarly become creation but Brahman has not changed. In celebrating Ganesh festival Hindus are reminding themselves of this important truth, a truth that needs to be known if our behaviours are to be changed in a way that promotes the achievement of perfection. 

Unless we believe that God is everywhere and begin to act accordingly, perfection would always elude us. Returning the murti to the river is symbolic of our understanding of God’s universal presence. 

The observance of Ganesh Pooja is to establish the covenant with God to behave fully believing that God is omnipresent. Not to so do is not to have truly worshipped Lord Ganesh.

Finally, it is said that Lord Ganesh is the remover of obstacles. Of this there is no doubt. But the reality is that with our new behaviours what obstacles would there be in our way?

The merging of the murti also indicates our new knowledge and that is to move away from names and forms to worship God in all names and all forms, for all are manifestations of God.

Part 2 would be published on Sunday:

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai