Becoming a More Spiritual Person Part 1

Part 1 of 3 - Bodhinatha gives a second class during Guru Purnima on the role of the guru. Beginning with a glorious quote from Gurudeva about the spirit of the guru and sampradaya, Bodhinatha reviews the five major tasks of the guru and then proceeds to take a simple look at initiation, diksha, which helps to control the devotee's karma as well as enliven the kundalini force within. We prepare for diksha by fulfilling vows, vrata. The power of initiation is sustained by performing the daily practice given by the guru as part of the diksha.

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Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to mastercourse@hindu.org.

Unedited Transcript:

We are continuing today on our series, talking about the Guru and the role of the Guru. We have a new quote from Gurudeva, Chapter 47, 'The Spirit of the Guru', to start with.

"Hindu temples sustain Hinduism around the world. Scriptures keep us all reminded of the path we are on and the path we are supposed to be on. But only from the Satguru can you get the spirit, the sakti, the sustaining spirit to make it all come to life in you, to make the temple meaningful and to complement the scriptures with your own sight, your own third-eye sight. Otherwise, it is just words.

Nathas are not on the path of words. The Rishi wandered down from the Himalayas to Bangalore. What did he say? Nobody knows. Whom did he talk to? Nobody knows. Did he influence crowds of people? Perhaps. But, he only had to influence one individual, Kadaitswami, to speak out to the world. Kadaitswami caught the spirit of the Rishi, who had caught the spirit of the previous rishi, the previous rishi and all the ones that preceded him. It is that spirit of sampradaya that gives the traditional teachings meaning, that gives you the power to discriminate between what is real within those teachings and what is superfluous or just plain nonsense. It gives you the power to blend Siddhanta with Vedanta, Vedas with Agamas. The irreversible spirit of the guru carries through all of the sishyas. It is basically the only gift a guru can give - that sustaining spirit. He doesn't have to give knowledge, because that has already been written down. He doesn't have to build temples, because there are more than enough temples for everyone. The rare and precious gift that he can convey is the inner spirit of his religious heritage. That is his unique gift to the world.

Nathas do not follow the way of words. Kadaitswami spoke to a lot of people. Who knows what he said? They didn't have tape recorders in those days, and doubtless he never wrote anything down. But the spirit carried through him to Chellappaguru, who didn't say an awful lot. He wasn't following the way of words either. He spoke only divine essences of the philosophy. He didn't write 3,000 verses like Rishi Tirumular did. Nor did he give lectures to crowds like Kadaitswami did. His spirit was passed on to Satguru Yogaswami, who passed his spirit on to a lot of devotees."

Let us review. Some of us weren't here previously and some of us may have forgotten some of our five points. We have made up a list of the 'Five Major Tasks' that a Guru does:

First - The guru provides encouragement to continue to strive and move forward. He encourages us to keep striving even when we are going through difficult times in our life. He also encourages us to strive to achieve more than we would otherwise.

Second - The guru helps us develop a spiritual self concept. Whatever self concept we bring to him - be it one of self doubt or one of great pride - the guru helps us move beyond it and identify with our spiritual nature, so that we truly feel ourselves to be a divine being.

Third - The guru speaks the teachings and by listening to his spoken word we have insights into the teachings far greater than we can acquire on our own by simply reading his books.

Fourth - The guru helps us improve our behavior through focusing on our weakest areas, as well as giving us guidelines as to how we as a spiritual person should behave.

And fifth, the guru provides initiation to quicken our unfoldment.

So today, we wanted to take a simple look at initiation, Diksha. The way Gurudeva has outlined it, we prepare for diksha by fulfilling vows or vrata. Vrata is the good preparation for diksha. What exactly is a vow?

Gurudeva describes a vrata or vow as a sacred trust. He says that people make little promises and break them, but this is not a vrata. A vow is also never only to oneself. A vow is always to God, Gods and Guru, community and respected elders. It is a sacred trust with God, Gods and Guru made at a most auspicious time in one's life. Vrata is a binding force, binding the external mind to the soul and the soul to the Divine.

Let us look at some examples. A common type of vow is making a promise to observe certain religious practices in a strict manner. Often these vratas relate to a specific day of the month or a Deity festival.

An individual takes a vow to fast on the 13th day of each lunar fortnight, known as pradosha vrata, for one year. We take a vrata for the 6 days of Skanda Shasti and then during the day fast and attend puja at the temple and eat only in the evening. The 21-day festival to Lord Ganesha, Vinayaga Vratram, incorporates vrata in the name of the festival itself and is often observed in the same way as Skanda Shasti, fasting during the day and attending Ganesha puja and then eating at night. For Thai Pusam, many devotees fast and follow disciplines for days in advance and then on the Thai Pusam day, carry kavadi, a wooden frame carried on the shoulders.

Certain pilgrimages also have vratas associated with them. An example is the Sabarimala pilgrimage to Lord Ayyappan. In this case, a vrata is taken covering the restrictions that are followed both during the 41 days prior to the pilgrimage, as well as during the pilgrimage itself, which includes dietary restrictions and the practice of brahmacharya. So, for 41 whole days before you start the pilgrimage, you are following the vrata. Sankar Nathan did that recently, you can ask him about it.

It is interesting to note that Gurudeva often spoke of pilgrims coming to worship God Siva at our San Marga sanctuary as following a strictness similar to Sabarimala, where they would prepare themselves ahead of time for many days, by fasting and other sadhanas.

In the four examples given, the vrata is for a fixed period of time and then is over. The pradosha vrata, for example, was for one year, Skanda Shasti lasted only 6 days, Vinayaga Vratam 21 days, Sabarimala until the pilgrimage is completed.

There are more advanced vows, such as those taken with the Guru for a lifetime.

Gurudeva established three such vows for his sishya to fulfill. The Sakahara or Vegetarian Vrata governs diet, the Parampara or Lineage Vrata governs spiritual studies and the Dasama Bhaga or Tithing Vrata governs finance.

Specifically, the Vegetarian Vow builds character through the control of appetite, which is the control of the instinctive mind. This is an interesting point. In other words, as control of our appetite increases, the control of the other instinctive emotions such as anger and jealousy also improves. It all naturally moves along together.

The Lineage Vow builds character through control of mental and philosophical ramification, which is control of the intellect. Traditionally, giving all loyalties to a lineage precludes all extraneous training and requires closing off intellectual inroads to all other lineages, not reading their books, not taking their courses. This vow harnesses the tendency to jump from teacher to teacher in search of new studies and techniques, rather than staying with one's current study and a set of techniques and perfecting it. That is a common problem in following a religious life these days. It is quite popular. You study with one teacher for a while, then you move on to the next and you move on to the next and you never perfect what you have learned. You are always learning something new, but you never stick with it. So, the Parampara vrata helps us to stick with it and follow one tradition, taking it into the experiential realm.

The last vow that Gurudeva gave us, the Tithing Vow, builds character through the control of money which is the control of desire. Lots of desires are fulfilled by spending money to acquire possessions. As soon as we get our paycheck, we rush to the store to buy something we just can't live without and a few months later we stop using it all together and find something else we just can't live without and buy that. Sound familiar?

So, those are vratas.

There is a beautiful description of initiation or diksha from Gurudeva which begins our Chapter 11 in the Saiva Dharma Shastras, where he says, "Karma, the flow of life. " That is a very interesting definition of karma, the flow of life. " Karma, the flow of life is regulated and brought under control through diksha, initiation, the placing of a special, life-changing, religious impressions deep into the mind of the devotee. Dikshas catalyze unfoldment, granting access to new areas of inner consciousness by enlivening the kundalini power in the initiate."

One of the important aspects of diksha is that diksha goes along with a practice. The first practice, of course, is a mantra. You are given diksha for a specific mantra and the diksha has a certain power. But if you don't do the mantra regularly, the power of the diksha dissipates.

The two things go together and that is one reason why Gurudeva asked everyone to master vratas first, which shows we are disciplined and consistent. Because, there is no point in giving an initiation to someone who won't be consistent in the practice. The power of the initiation is sustained by doing what we are supposed to do everyday.

The first initiation is a traditional Saivite diksha or Saivite initiation that is called Samaya Diksha, also called Mantra Diksha and empowers one to chant the Panchakshara Mantra, 'Aum Namaya Sivaya', on a mala of rudraksha japa beads. That is the first initiation that Gurudeva has defined for us, called Samaya Diksha or Mantra Diksha. The practice we are supposed to do to sustain that initiation, to sustain the power we are given, is to do the Panchakshara Mantra, at least 108 times everyday. Then that sustains the power of the initiation. Otherwise, it dissipates.

Describing the other dikshas briefly, we are not trying to get into them in detail. Vishesha Diksha, empowers one to perform daily the Saiva Atmartha Puja. Doing a Siva puja in our home is the second diksha that Gurudeva has defined for us. Again, unless we do the puja everyday, we dissipate the power that we received during the diksha. Gurudeva lets us skip it on weekends.

A couple of the ones the monks get. The monks get Nirvana Diksha, which marks the beginning of tapas and the serious practice of yoga. Then of course, Gurudeva also outlines Sannyasa Diksha, making someone a sannyasin and Acharya Diksha, making someone an acharya.

So, those are some thoughts on diksha, as it is one of the five tasks of the Guru, to give diksha. Gurudeva, of course, has established a strict tradition. These days sometimes you go to a weekend seminar and by the end of the seminar you have gotten diksha. Gurudeva is not that easy, He makes you work for it for a few years, take your vratas first and show that you are worthy of it, that you will be able to sustain the power of the dikshas. It requires more than a weekend seminar. It requires a number of years of preparation before, in Gurudeva's system, diksha is given.