dhyāyāmi varadāṃ devīṃ sadānandasvarūpinīm ||
I have not talked to you all for a while as travel and work are keeping me supremely busy. And some recent puraścaraṇa I have undertaken keeps me busy as well, and happy :)
I finally got a chance to catch up on my email. Glad to know most of my friends and dear students are safe in Chennai. My most sincere gratitude to the lotus feet of Parāmbā, Prāsādaśambhu and Nṛsiṃha.
One of the several emails I received was regarding a program involving the Pārāyaṇa of aṣṭottara śatanāma of Srī Shaṅkarācārya, described as a Yajña. While I appreciate the noble intent behind this task, what is its purpose? I write below the advice that I gave my mother some time ago.
I always like to distinguish between two categories of spiritual aspirants: Bhakta and Upāsaka. Bhakta is devoted to a deity, or several deities and his approach to worship is unstructured. He is possibly in the process of cultivating devotion and doing various activities perceived to be of spiritual nature. More often than not, he has no guidance of a teacher. For such aspirants, programs such as these are of benefit, to a certain extent, in cultivating devotion towards the Guru, also perhaps in developing some body-mind discipline. I am not very sure which version of aṣṭottara is going to be used here, but the one attributed to Vidyāraṇya is heavily based on the hagiographical account - Mādhavīya Shaṅkara Digvijaya. Yes, perhaps there are some inspirational names here worthy of contemplation, amidst the myths and glorification of ācārya’s accomplishments, some true, some others not. Apart from that, I do not see any practical benefit in indulging in such activities.
If one were to possibly seek the advice of ācārya himself, I am most certain he would rather advice folks to study Vedānta, to use his written works which cover the entire gamut of metaphysics, addressing the absolute beginner as well the advanced student. Or, one could spend time propitiating the several deities he invoked, be it in the spirit of devotion, or through his more systematic works such as Prapañcasāra and Saundaryalaharī (or the controversial Yatidaṇḍaiśvaryavidhi). That, in my opinion, would be a better way to appreciate the great Advaitācārya.
As for the Upāsaka, the instructions are clear:
cakrarājārcanaṃ devyā japo nāmnāṃ ca kīrtanam |
bhaktasya kṛtyametāvadanyadabhyudayaṃ viduḥ ||
An upāsaka of Srīvidyā expresses his Bhakti not by singing and dancing, or by reciting names of the Guru, or by pilgrimages etc. His Bhakti is expressed through the systematic worship of Srīcakra involving both antaryāga and bahiryāga, Japa of mahāmantras such as Bālā, Pañcadaśī and Shoḍaśī, and through the contemplative recitation of Lalitā Sahasranāma. There can be other expressions of his Bhakti but not at the cost of his primary responsibility towards his upāsanā.
When I was once a young student of my brilliant Guru, I asked him, “Gurunātha, can I recite Gurucaritra (popular in Mahārāṣṭra) after my daily practices? People say it’s very powerful” He replied, “Well, if you have so much time, then perhaps you are not doing enough Japa! One who does even half of the required Japa, has no free time to spend! And why are you not reciting the mantra of Dattātreya instead, or the Mahāmantra of Lalitā that is propitiated by Dattātreya himself? Would that not be better use of your time and energy than recite a devotional work which is not a revealed scripture or a śāstra?”
Life is precious, and so is time! One should be judicious in their time management and spend every possible minute in Japa and contemplation rather than indulge in other activities 'perceived' to be of spiritual nature. Upāsakas should clearly distinguish themselves from the lay devout and realize their clear responsibility towards sādhanā. I have nothing against my students reciting all kinds of stotras, śatanāmas, songs, chalisas etc., but every time you do that, please question yourself if you have done justice that day to your prescribed upāsanā.
Have a glorious year ahead!
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