Vedanta is an ancient philosophy which enunciates the eternal principles of life and living. Living is an art, a skill, a technique. Few have understood it to be so in the span of human history. Nevertheless, you need to learn and practise this technique of living as you would to play a musical instrument or fly an aircraft.
We fail to learn this art of living in life because we fail to think independently, originally. We take things for granted, accept tradition and beliefs without reason. Lord Buddha has cautioned humanity over 2,500 years ago on the important role of thinking and reason in human life:
- Do not believe what you have heard.
- Do not believe in tradition because it is handed down many generations.
- Do not believe in anything that has been spoken of many times.
- Do not believe because the written statements come from some old sage.
- Do not believe in conjecture.
- Do not believe in authority or teachers or elders.
But after careful observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and it will benefit one and all, then accept it and live by it.
When we do not use our reason to think independently, apart from the herd, we meet with strife and struggle, stress and strain, worry and anxiety.
It is never too late to start thinking. Start now by questioning the meaning behind everything you do. You can begin by understanding the meaning behind Divali, a grand festival which Hindu’s around the world will celebrate this week. What is the symbolism behind it?
‘Divali’ is derived from ‘Dipavali’ meaning ‘a cluster of lights’. The celebration of Divali is marked by illumination everywhere. Rows and rows of small earthenware lamps are seen in every home. Divali is also known for fireworks which go on the whole night. In every house the children, even elders, light fire crackers. The night sounds like a battle-field everywhere.
Early next morning before sunrise, every member of the family takes the holy bath and wears new clothes. From the poorest to the richest Indian, wearing new clothes is an established ritual. Thereafter all of them visit relatives and friends where gifts are exchanged and sweets consumed with much gaiety.
Divali, or more correctly Dipavali, is a joyous celebration of the death of the Titan of hell, Narakasura at the hands of Lord Krishna. Narakasura, known as the son of the earth, was all-powerful. He was an intolerable menace to the gods, sages and all men of piety. He looted and plundered not only the earth but heaven as well. He carried away 16,000 fair daughters of the gods and imprisoned them in his harem. The gods led by Indra approached Lord Krishna and requested the Lord to destroy the demon. Krishna readily agreed. He fought a fierce battle. After destroying thousands of demons Krishna slew Narakasura. Thereafter he rescued the imprisoned damsels and at their earnest prayers took them as his wives.
This festival, like all other festivals and rituals, explains the inner personality of man and his deliverance from his ignorance and ego to attainment of his supreme nature of God-realisation. The darkness of the night represents man’s total ignorance of his Self, ignorance of his Godhood. In that darkness reins the desire-ridden ego which destroys peace and brings about sorrow and misery in the bosom of man represented by Narakasura. The 16,000 damsels represent the desires that arise in an egoistic man. Desires dwell in ignorance under the control of the ego. All desires cannot find fulfilment in this limited world. They remain frustrated. Thus man is driven to a state of sorrow and suffering by his own negative tendencies.
To pull himself out of this state man has to employ his positive tendencies to direct his attention to the higher Self. Every man has within him both positive and negative tendencies. They have been represented in almost all religions as gods and demons respectively. The gods’ approach of Krishna for help signifies man’s positive tendencies reaching for the Self. When man turns introvert and seeks the inner Self his negative tendencies get destroyed one by one. His desires get annihilated. This is represented by the fireworks on the night of Divali. The battle with the ego, the fight with the negative tendencies, the destruction of the desires goes on the whole night, that is as long as ignorance lasts. With the rising of the sun all darkness is dispelled, all ignorance removed, all desires destroyed. Ego, the Narakasura, is killed. Man is transformed to his original Godhead.
The bath at dawn of Divali indicates the cleansing of the ego born, egocentric desires. The new clothes signify the newly acquired Godhood. That transformation brings about gaiety, joy, bliss represented by eating sweets and merry-making. The visiting of relatives and friends the next morning carries this new vision, the vision of Divinity, the vision of the supreme Self in one and all.
MS LINESTHA CHAVAN lives in Durban and spent long years studying at the Vedanta Academy in Pune, India. Today she is a full time teacher – teaching the art and science of living – Vedanta style.