What Are Our Five Core Practices?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 41


The pancha nitya karmas are spiritual practices for all Hindus: worship, holy days, pilgrimage, dharma and rites of passage. Three forms of worship: the temple, home shrine and on pilgrimage. Daily spiritual practice. Mitigating karma by worship. On pilgrimage, in powerful temples with maximum effort in worship and one pointed attention, karmas accumulating for many past lives can be eliminated.

Path to Siva, Lesson 41.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone. Reading this morning from Path to Siva, Lesson 41.

"What Are Our Five Core Practices?

"Worship, holy days, pilgrimage, dharma and rites of passage are the five areas of practice that Gurudeva recommended for all Hindus. In Sanskrit they are called the pancha nitya karmas. First and foremost is daily worship, upasana. This is the core of religious life, the soul's natural outpouring of love for God and the Gods. Next is utsava, honoring holy days, when the blessing of the Deities are strongest. We join with family and community in ceremony and feasting during the major Siva, Ganesha and Murugan festivals each year. Monday is the Hindu holy day in the North of India, and Friday in the South. On this day we attend the temple, clean and decorate the home shrine and spend extra time in prayer, japa and scriptural study. These are not days of rest; we carry on our usual work. Pilgrimage, tirthayatra, is our third area of practice. At least once a year, we make a special journey to a holy place. It is a complete break from our usual concerns, during which God, Gods and gurus become the singular focus. These three forms or worship--daily puja, holy days and pilgrimage--help us manifest our inner perfection in our outer nature. Our fourth area is dharma, living an unselfish life of duty and good conduct. Here, the yamas and niyamas are our guide. Dharma includes being respectful of parents, elders, teachers and swamis. Our fifth area of practice is rites of passage called samskaras. These are personal ceremonies that sanctify and celebrate crucial junctures in life, from birth to death. The first major samskara is the name-giving rite. Others follow, including first feeding, ear piercing and beginning of formal study. As an adult, the most important ceremony is marriage. At death the soul is released from the body during sacred funeral rites. Rites of passage draw to us special blessings from the devas and Deities, society and village, friends and family."

"Performing daily sadhana, keeping good company, (says Gurudeva) pilgrimaging to holy places, seeing to others' needs--these evoke the higher energies, direct the mind to useful thoughts and avoid the creation of troublesome new karmas."

I told this story before but some of you weren't here so I'll tell it again. Young man was talking to me in the visitor's center and he said: "I really don't like going to the temple; is that okay?" What do you say? You know so when asked that, of course you're supposed to go to the temple. But if he's not going to go you can't tell him to go. So I said yes, that's okay but then you really have to understand and practice dharma well. And that's why dharma of course is looked at as the primary practice here, it's the basic practice on top of which we're adding the other practices.

So dharma is nicely explained in the text. "Our fourth area is dharma, living an unselfish life of duty and good conduct." So we have three components. Virtuous life, duty and unselfish. Three nice components to understand dharma. It's interesting, we have a picture here which you can't read the text of but it's giving the five, the pancha nitya karmas, and the, it reads: rites of passage, holy days, pilgrimage, worship, pilgrimage and dharma. We use the Sanskrit word dharma because it's really impossible to translate in one word. It's such a broad concept that when you translate it you lose a lot. So it's better to keep it broad, saying dharma. And here, we're pointing out three components of it. Being unselfish, the opposite way means helping others, being charitable. Giving of money, giving of time, helping others, following virtue and fulfilling your duties.

The extent of duty is sometimes not understood. I ran into a yoga teacher, Illinois. Down near Caterpillar in Illinois. Caterpillar the tractor company. And, he was teaching yoga at the temple, was fairly knowledgeable in Hinduism and he was reading Living with Siva. And he ran into a phrase. "You must do your duty to your community." And he wrote me about it and he said: "What does that mean?" There he was, very knowledgeable, teaching yoga and he didn't understand the concept of duty to community. That had never been explained to him.

So I wrote to him and I said: The community in which you live is like a distant part of your family. And you have a duty to them just like you have duties to your closer family members. Of course as the distance increases the duty diminishes. But they're just like a family member the community in which you live. So you need to do things for them on occasion, to help them out and be concerned about their wellbeing. So all of that is encompassed in the concept of dharma.

Samskaras, self evident and usually taken care of by the parents so you don't have to worry about that until you're a parent. Then you have to see that the kids get the samskaras. But it's, as it says, it's a nice phrase there. "These are personal ceremonies that sanctify and celebrate crucial junctures in life, ..." So when something important is happening in life, you're starting school, there's a ceremony that marks it and gives it a religious nature. So it's bringing religion into these major changes in our life in a very nice way. It's all worked out by following the samskaras.

Then we get the three forms of worship. That's the way I remember them as pancha nitya karmas. We have dharma, samskaras and then there's three forms of worship. Upasana, utsava and tirthayatra. And as the text says, this is something Gurudeva encourages all Hindus to do. Not something just for close devotees here. He wants daily worship in the home shrine, upasana. Utsava, going to the temple once a week, ideally on the same day and making it a special day in the home shrine as well. Plus utsava is going to the temple once a week also doing something special in the home shrine once a week and then attending all the major Siva, Murugan and Ganesha festivals, that's utsava. And then tirthayatra it's the ideal, hard if you're in Mauritius, stuck in the middle of the ocean, easier in other places. Even Hawaii is a bit challenging to go to a temple you normally go to on a pilgrimage.

And why is it a temple you don't go to? Because you don't have a habit pattern. The temples you normally go there's a certain habit pattern then you naturally fall into, they're good habits, but you fall into a normal routine you do when you go there. If you go to a different temple you don't have any habit pattern, you have to give it more thought, it's not automatic, so you have to think about it more. And ideally it's, I'd say it depends on how far it is of course but if it's not too far away, maybe three days if it's medium distance, a week, go a long distance two weeks but it's lengthier than normal worship. And the advantage of that is we have to set aside our normal routine. Our job, family obligations, they all have to be set aside and taken care of. Because during our normal time, we come to the temple to worship but part of us is thinking about what we have to do at home or work when we leave. Because the duties are surrounding us. But here we've taken care of all that, we've handled it. We don't have to think about it during the pilgrimage and therefore we're able to be more one pointed on our worship. That's the point.

So we're more one pointed. Perhaps we're going to some ancient temples and the power of them is also stronger. So, the combination of the greater power of the temple we're going to plus being more one pointed on the worship gives it extra value. And Gurudeva says in the Master Course Trilogy, paraphrase it: The darshan coming from the ancient temples of Saivism have the power to wipe away karmas that have been accumulating for many past lives. Something like that. So it actually can eliminate karma which is hard to do.

In other words karma is usually just mitigated. It works out a little better than it would of if we had mitigated it, lessened the negative effects through our normal worship, helping others and all we mitigate our karma. But for the whole karma to actually disappear is hard to do and pilgrimage can accomplish that. If the temple is powerful enough, you're there on a good time and you put maximum effort into the worship. We can only get out of worship what we put in. We're not paying much attention we don't get much out of it. If we're paying super attention cause we're on pilgrimage, we're getting much more out of the same experience.

I have a talk on the levels of practice just to put this in context of that without going too far into the more advanced levels of practice. I look at dharma as explained over here, as the first level of practice and if someone is stubborn as many young Hindus are about not going to the temple and they're not going to change their mind and dharma is about it. And hopefully, with a lot of seva, a lot of service to others including religious institutions.

But definitely it's better to get up to the level of the pancha nitya karmas where you have the three forms of worship going in your life. You're going to the temple once a week. And then beyond that we have the ten minute practice, we call the ten minute spiritual workout. We have it as a mobile App, encourage people to do it. And we're getting into a longer daily practice. That would be the next step up after the level of pancha nitya karmas. Which dharma is first, pancha nitya karmas are second and then ten minute spiritual workout would be third level of practice. And it's one of the points I stress because it's not understood by many modern Hindus that spiritual progress is related to the amount of practice. Direct relationship. So the more we practice the more progress we make and everyone wants spiritual progress but they don't necessarily fully cognize that the variable is how much time you practice every week, every day. So that's one of the reasons we created the ten minute spiritual workout, it's easier than half an hour or a full hour which is the other alternatives in our program.

Well thank you very much; that's the pancha nitya karmas.

Photo of  Gurudeva
The experienced meditator seeks out the unwholesome areas within himself, endeavoring to expose and rid himself of each knot of karma.
—Gurudeva