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Real Diwali

By ananthu at October 27, 2006 9:47 PM

This is the festival season all over our country – we have just celebrated Vijaydashmi, and are moving towards Diwali. Why exactly do we celebrate these festivals? What is the deeper meaning behind them? Vijaydashmi is often seen as the victory of an angel representing the good (Rama) over a demon representing the evil (Ravana), and Diwali as the return of Rama to his birthplace Ayodhya. But are these just historical incidents whose anniversaries we celebrate?

Gandhiji was very clear that the real meaning of our epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha can be found only when we see them as allegories representing the battle of the good and evil within our hearts – each heart represents the Kurukshetra, he said. When others tried to present historical proof of Kurukshetra, the town in Haryana, being the scene of this battle in the bygone years, he dismissed such ideas, saying that even if this is true, what use is a recall of such events that took place 5000 or more years back to our lives today? It is only when we recognize the battle of Mahabharatha taking place every moment in our own hearts that the message of the Gita comes alive for us.

Each of the Kauravas represent the evil tendencies within us, and each of the Pandavas represent the good forces within us. We have more evil than good within, hence the allegory calls for 100 Kauravas and only 5 Pandavas. In real life, who will ever name his or her children Duryodhan or Dushasan? Not that our children don't have any shortcomings. But even though our baby girl is a very obstinate child, we call her not 'hathhi', but 'namrata'; even when our baby boy weeps and howls all day and gives us sleepless nights, we christen him not 'shok' but Ashok. So, Duryodhan and Dushasan are names not for real persons but for our own evil tendencies. Similarly, Arjun is the name for that tendency within us by which we wish to fight our own shortcomings, and triumph over them. It is for this purpose that we are sent into this world, and our epics use the story of a major set of wars to describe the prolonged battle that takes place within our hearts through the millions and millions of incarnations that we have to go through on these planes of phenomena into which are born.

Kabir has very beautifully described the dilemma that the Arjun force within us faces: conquering one evil unfortunately creates the ground for another to surface! Over millions of life-times, when we first give free play to lust and then finally begin to recognize this as evil and after Herculean efforts succeed in getting over lust, this gives rise to anger within, for the mind has been suppressed and needs an outlet. Then, having given vent to bouts of anger for another million life-times, when we fight this evil over yet another million life-times, and when we do succeed in this next Herculean effort, our mind develops a sense of calmness, hence our ability to concentrate is heightened. This in turn results in resounding success in all our worldly efforts – in business, in education, in military conquests etc. These accomplishments make us feel we deserve just rewards for our talents, and we become gradually more and more greedy. So, greed takes over where anger left off. After another million life-times, when we slowly begin to recognize that greed is bad and engage in the next Herculean effort of overcoming it, we start using our talents not for our own benefit but for the sake of others – helping the poor, bringing about social change, playing the role of emancipator. Such a role makes us feel 'what a good boy am I', and the ego flares up. And as the ego or sense of 'I-ness' is the root cause of all the evils, anger and lust and greed and so on that the Arjun within us has tried for so many millions and millions of life-times to eliminate all promptly come back into our hearts!!

It is when Arjun gets absolutely frustrated and humbled that the Lord appears in the form of Krishna, and the famous Geetopadesh follow. Each chapter of the Gita is actually a form of Yoga – how by yoking ourselves to the Divine can we succeed in eliminating the evils within, for then we will be attributing our success to the Divine, and the ego will not get inflamed. The five 'horses' that are right now driving the chariot - our inner self - mad will finally be brought under control.

Each story in the Mahanharatha is a symbolic representation of this battle, and a pointer to the Yoga practices that will enable the good within us to triumph over the evil. Particular stress is laid on that most intractable evil within - the feeling of 'I-ness', which manifests itself as the ego. Hence Krishna comes to Draupadi's rescue only after she gives up clinging to her sari. Similarly, in the last story, when the Pandavas are asked to conquer the Himalayas but with the condition that none should look back at the world, each one (including Arjun) fails – except for Yudishtir. The name Yudhistir stands for the ability within us to remain steadfast in battle ('yudh mein sthir'). This is possible only when we rise above the duality this world represents, which is the goal of all higher forms of Yoga.

Rising above duality is central to the message of the Ramayana too. Rama's birthplace is shown as Ayodhya – 'jahan yudh na ho' – where there is no conflict, no feeling of 'I' versus 'You' (How different from what goes on in the town that goes by that name!!). Rama represents our real self, whereas Ravana represents our false self, which involves the feeling of separation from the other, and hence the ego. Our battle over trillions of life-times is the battle between this false self and the real self. The best description of this battle in English has been made not by a Hindu philosopher but by the Catholic priest Thomas Merton:

"Between the self and the Self there is eternal warfare, for the one is a barrier upon the other's journey home. We shall know suffering, and in particular the agony of fear, as long as this duality remains, and there is no escape from this battlefield."

Ramayana is actually a description of this 'eternal warfare'. Ram represents our Self, Ravana our self. Sita represents our soul, which has been 'abducted' by our self, and hence we associate our identity with the body and mind, which are both 'trapped' in space and time, and hence lead to the feeling of a narrow self, subject to death and destruction, and 'separated from the rest'. What this sense of separation does to our identity and our ability for love and compassion is best described by none other than Albert Einstein, invoking his discoveries in physics that led to a new concept of space and time:

" A human being is part of the whole, called by us "universe", a part limited in space and time. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest; a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security."

Einstein insisted that anyone who really wants to understand his Theory of Relativity must get out of this prison of space and time that we are all entrapped in:

"For a convinced physicist, the distinction between past, present and future is an illusion, though a stubborn one."

Unfortunately, nothing that is taught in our universities prepares us to overcome this 'stubborn illusion'. Here is where the real lesson contained in our epics comes to our rescue – overcoming the barriers of space and time require that we subdue the feeling of 'I-ness', and a pre-requisite for that is the triumph of the Rama within over the Ravana within. This is accomplished with the aid of Hanuman – that tendency of our mind which is willing to do the bidding of Rama, as opposed to other tendencies which are for ever creating new desires, and are therefore acting at the bidding of Ravana. Hence Gandhiji declared in unambiguous terms:

"Our greatest enemy is not the foreigner, nor anyone else. Our enemies are we ourselves, that is, our own desires."

At the base of all desires, whether we classify them as 'bad desires' or 'good desires', is the notion of a world 'out there', a feeling of others separated from the rest. It is this feeling that gives rise, as Einstein pointed out, to a limitation of our ability for love and compassion. Hence, the basic requirement for liberation was specified by the Buddha in the following words:

"Practice the simple truth that the man there is thou."

In other words, let the Self (Rama) triumph over the self (Ravana). Vijayadashmi represents this triumph. Diwali always follows Vijayadashmi, for such a triumph of the spirit over the mind leads to 'en+light+enment" – the ability to see the subtle. This ability is possible only when we rise above duality – hence Diwali is shown as the return of Rama to the Ayodhya – 'jahan yudh na ho'.

What do we mean by 'seeing the subtle'? The most important things of life are actually hidden from us during our normal waking consciousness. As the eminent psychologist William James put it:

"Our normal consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different."

Another eminent psychologist, Carl Rogers, has specified what these 'different forms of consciousness' imply and how they can lead to insights into the space-time continuum that forms the bulwark of the Theory of Relativity:

"Perhaps in the coming generation of younger psychologists, hopefully unencumbered by university prohibitions and restrictions, there may be a few who will dare to investigate the possibility that there is a lawful reality which is not open to our five senses; a reality in which present, past and future are intermingled, in which space is not a barrier and time has disappeared; a reality which can be perceived and known only when we are passively receptive, rather than actively bent on knowing. It is one of the most exciting challenges posed to psychology."

Why is it such an exciting challenge posed to psychology? Because no matter how much we study it as a subject in our universities, we are unable to see the mind – our own or others' – and hence all knowledge of the mind are well-thought out guesses, at best – more often, just plain speculations.

Even more important than the mind is the Life force which pervades our bodies, and the bodies of all plants, animals, birds. Our "Life Sciences" today arrive at conclusions about life by studying the physical and chemical properties of the molecules that constitute our bodies. But by the time these molecules are separated from the body, they have already lost the element of life!

The other extremely important thing we try our best to fathom, but always fail, is the cause of events in our lives – accidents, deaths, birth itself, circumstances of birth, earthquakes, weather patterns etc. We may deceive ourselves into thinking that one day our 'rational consciousness' will solve these mysteries, but in countries like India and China it is well known that the sages and saints who had quietened their minds by overcoming the self had access to the Creative Power that is behind all causation. Their 'enlightenment' led to this, and this enlightenment was always preceded by the victory of the Rama within them over the Ravana within them. As the Buddha put it very simply:

"There is self and there is Truth. Where Truth is, self is not. When self appears, Truth is not."

Goswami Tulasidas also stressed that enlightenment – the Diwali that follows the victory of the inner Rama – leads to lighting up not only the inner worlds within, but also the physical world in which we live while occupying this body. Guru Nanak Dev used the analogy of the fog to convey the same message – that in our 'normal waking state' we do not have the foggiest idea of the Cause behind events around us, but enlightenment lifts this fog, making us aware of the Law that is behind all phenomena, a Law which Gandhi equated to Love or Non-violence.

Lest we conclude that Diwali and enlightenment are only Hindu or Indian concepts, here is Christ's rendering of the same:

"The light of the body is the eye. If thine eye be single, thy whole body will be full of light. If thine eye be evil, thy whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness."

In other words, to get en-light-ened, one has to eliminate the evil (Ravana) within and thereby see the unity behind the apparent multiplicity around.

But perhaps the best rendering of what en-light-enment stands for came from the pen of Maulana Rumi, the great mystic in the Islamic tradition:

"The lamps are different, but the light is the same;
It comes from beyond.
If you keep looking at the lamp,
Thou are lost.
For thence arises number and plurality.
Fix your gaze upon the Light."

Fixing our gaze upon this Light which reveals the unity of all life is the real Diwali.