October 3, 2011

Divine Mother Festival—why worship deities at all?

We are currently in the middle of the nine nights of the Divine mother Festival of 2011. To many Westerners, these kinds of festivals seem pretty crazy, and that includes people in the “yoga” community.

Hinduism and the Supernatural

Many times Hinduism (the religious path of the yoga/Indian culture) is looked down upon and treated as naive by Western yogis. Worship, ritual and surrender to the higher forces of the universe (which created everything including you) are looked down upon. Sadly, because of our Western cynicism, gurus and deities are categorized as a sign of weakness, because “the truth is within”.

Well, yes, the truth is within. It is formless, energetic and eternal. Yet, in this worldly incarnation, we live through form and identify with ourselves and others through form. Yoga is a union of spirit and form. Deities are representations of spirit through form.

It is often difficult for Westerners, who have no connection to yoga or Indian culture, to understand why billions of people would bow in reverence to deities with elephant heads, many arms, blue faces and other supernatural attributes. After all, God is an old man with a long beard, right? Well, of course, many would say “wrong” to that idea—and because they reject this “Judeo-Christian” version of God, they reject God entirely. As if every cultural representation of supernatural universal power is meant to enslave us and exploit us. Actually, that perspective is wrong—and we are reawakening en masse to these realities.

The appearances of Indian deities are to personify the supernatural quality of the idea that “the truth is within”. That truth is not of this world—and the deities’ appearances reflect that. Because we live through the body in this world, mainly interacting with other people/humans, the great Indian yogis divined supernatural deities to connect our heart and limited mind of the world with the supernatural force within us.

A form has enormous power, because our mind works through pictures, forms and stories. To speak in the abstract about “protection and destroying darkness” is much less effective than representing that universal force in the form of goddess Kali or Mother Durga.

Divine Mother Festival

One of the most enduring symbols on the entire planet is the symbol of the divine mother. It’s easy to conceive the earth as our Divine mother, giving us unconditional love and support. In September–October each year, Hinduism celebrates the divine mother over a course of nine nights.

Nights one through three, Goddess Durga (protection, removal of darkness) is worshiped. Durga rides a lion and slays demons.

Nights four through six, Goddess Lakshmi (abundance and prosperity) is worshiped. Lakshmi sits on a Lotus, surrounded by beauty, dispensing coins.

Nights seven through nine, Goddess Saraswati (wisdom and creativity) is worshiped. Saraswati sits in nature, playing an instrument with sacred texts nearby.

There is nothing random about this order, as it models the creative process, and ultimately the higher flowering and unfolding of potential. We can use the example of planting a tree or flower.

The first thing we must do is pull up the weeds, till the earth, fertilize the soil, then put the seed under the ground. The first part of any creative process is mainly destructive. Pulling up weeds, breaking up/softening the topsoil, creating protective barriers and destroying pests are all included.

Next, with the seed underground, and negativities neutralized, growth is possible (and not until). This stage requires water, sunlight and loving attention. If these things are provided, the shell casing will be broken and the seed will sprout and eventually break the surface, then hopefully grow into a plant.

Finally, continued growth of the plant will eventually yield its highest potential, in the form of its fruit or a sweet smelling flower.

Your Creative Process

This creative process is the same, regardless of the subject or situation, including the flowering of human consciousness. There’s no wisdom and creativity possible (Saraswati) until there is peace, contentment and loving attention (Lakshmi). But first we must remove the darkness, anger and confusion from our heart (Durga).

For these nine nights each year, Hindus and those uplifted by the rich majesty of Vedic principles, celebrate the creative process in all its forms.  We pull up the weeds contaminating the garden of our mind and implant the seed of beauty on the first three nights—surrendering to mother Durga. We inculcate virtues of love, prosperity and beauty the second of the three nights—surrendering to mother Lakshmi. Then finally, on the last three nights we invite the blessings of mother Saraswati to grace us with the highest, divine wisdom.

Because, yes indeed, “the truth is within”. If you regularly say this, then hopefully you are also regularly going within to find it. If you are, I bet you will also find the beauty of Indian holidays, stories, ritual and symbolism to be of enormous help on the hero’s journey of your life.

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