Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In Honor of Goddess Saraswati

During a recent meditation session, I had visions of the Goddess Saraswati. I'm not sure if they were strong visions at all, but they were to me, as She seemed to be on the forefront of my mind during this particular meditation session...and beyond. Even though these visions of Goddess Saraswati might be of little consequence or import, they've nonetheless stoked my curiosity about Her. What I've found makes me desire to worship Her more.

I know that all Gods and Goddesses in Hinduism are manifestations of the One, so She couldn't really be considered a separate Goddess from Lord Ganesha. If anything, in some regions of India, Goddess Saraswati is Lord Ganesha's sister! So it's not inconceivable that I would think of her during my mantra prayers to Lord Ganesha, which is when this happened. The one thing I've been told is that worshipping both Lord Ganesha and Goddess Saraswati is not only good practice, but common. This seems like something I might want to do.

For those who don't know, Goddess Saraswati is considered to be the Goddess of knowledge and the arts. She is often worshipped alongside Lord Ganesha to provide inspiration and remove mental obstacles to creativity. She is often depicted as having a swan as her mount. This was the first I saw of Her in my meditation - I saw the swan first, and when I figured out it was a swan, Goddess Saraswati took over my mind!

I offer this post to Goddess Saraswati and Lord Ganesha, to be my two guides through my blogging and my life.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Reading the Ramayana

Namaste readers! Recently I've begun a new undertaking in my Hindu practice - I have begun reading the Hindu epic known as the Ramayana. More specifically the Ramesh Menon translation, as that particular translation came highly recommended to me. Seeing as I don't know how to read the original Sanskrit the Ramayana was written in (I think, correct me if I'm wrong), this translation was as good as any for me.

So far I've reached chapter nine of book one of this translation. I have to say, I'm quite enthralled so far! Even from a purely literary standpoint the Ramayana is a revelation - its themes of good vs. evil and the ones chosen to fight this battle are timeless, of course, and have been written upon many, many times since then, but I never before have encountered a tale of this theme told so well and with this much...authority, for lack of a better term. Other similar tales seem pretentious in comparison.

Still, there are aspects of the Ramayana that make me feel a little...uncomfortable. However, maybe this uncomfortableness is a result of my own emotions and perceptions of reading this tale for the first time. I can't help but feel...envious, envious of the character Rama. I feel envy because Rama has so much adoration upon him for merely being born, and he is every bit deserving of such adoration because of his ability to literally save the world. Yeah, I know what you're could I be envious of a God, of an incarnation of Lord Vishnu?

Let me explain. I think this envy comes from the powerlessness I feel in everyday life...powerlessness to change and defeat the evil that happens everyday in this world. I know no one human can change the world, but considering the everyday consumption I have to partake in, and how that consumption harms others... The point I'm getting at is that if I'm supposed to be of benefit to this world, why wasn't I born in a a place and time and with a temperament that's more suited to do so?

In summary, I want to believe that I'm of benefit to the world around me somehow, but then I look at the example of Rama...and I see an impossibly high standard. A bar so high I'd have to fly a plane to clear it.

Maybe this isn't what I'm supposed to feel when reading the Ramayana, mind works in mysterious ways when it comes to this sort of thing. I know the laws of karma and dharma are unfathomable, just seems unfair to have the responsibility of helping the world and not having the power to effectively do it!

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Devil's in the Details

I'm kind of going out on a limb here with my next post. The reason I say that is because I'm going to be talking about a video game in this post, more specifically the recently released fifth game in the Devil May Cry series (called simply DmC: Devil May Cry). While I'm not connecting it with Hinduism here (that's sort of impossible with a title such as Devil May Cry), I am going to make some commentary on it here which I hope provokes discussion along the lines of the theme of this blog. I certainly believe the new Devil May Cry game has moral lessons which should be embraced by all, even though it's most certainly violent in every way a video game can be; it's certainly not a title the kids can play, but I think adults who like video games will find much to enjoy and contemplate.

A little background first - the fifth Devil May Cry has been loathed and despised by many fans of the series, mainly for reasons I don't comprehend. These are the sorts of fans who want "change" and "innovation" in video games, yet they balk at the changes to Devil May Cry. This isn't a moral weakness unique to gamers, though...change to anything that's been long established is bound to be met with a negative reception. This goes into the first moral lesson I believe the new Devil May Cry can teach its adult players - one should give change a chance. Reacting to any change in a negative way, to put it simply, isn't worth it. Change is inevitable in life; it's better to learn to adapt than to curse this fundamental nature of the universe. "If you dance with the devil, the devil doesn't change, the devil changes you" (I can't remember who said that quote, but with DmC it certainly applies). Especially with video games, cursing change just isn't worth your time.

The main character of DmC, Dante, at first is aloof and uncaring about the world he inhabits and the people that populate it. He regularly fights demons, but only when he starts caring about humanity and wants to defend them does he gain power. This is another moral lesson I feel the game can teach its players - caring about your fellow human beings can uplift you. I haven't gotten a chance to play the whole game yet (I only just got it today), but it feels to me that Dante will change from being a cynical, jaded jerk to a true fighter for justice - albeit one with a foul mouth. (Yeah, the level of profanity is high in this game.)

Thirdly, the game has a highly moral political bent to begin with - the organizations that the demons control in this game are financial institutions, governments, and right-wing news broadcasters. Since Dante hunts demons, he's branded as a terrorist by these demon-controlled organizations. This certainly highlights the political direction America is going in - disagreement is becoming heated, and differences in opinion are being treated with increased disrespect. One shouldn't be branded a "terrorist" simply because he or she disagrees with the prevailing national attitude!

Granted, these observations may be a bit of a stretch, but I'm not trying to make DmC sound like a moral authority. Rather, I'm pointing out that these are universal moral themes that can be expressed in any medium, even in a video game as violent as DmC. As I play more of this game I will report back and see if it holds up under my moral scrutiny, but for now, suffice it to say that this is a mature game - not just because of its violent content, but the themes it tries to explore. I recommend this to any adult video game player who wants a cerebral tale of morality.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Heavy Metal and Hardcore Music is a Universal Language

Watch "Snapcase - Caboose" on YouTube

The above link goes to a YouTube posting to a favorite song of mine from way back in the 1990's. (I can't believe the '90s now count as "way back" - by Ganesha I feel old...) It's also my current jam on "This is My Jam." The lyrics are in the video description, and I suggest you read them, and not just because it's hard to understand the hardcore punk/metal screaming in the song. ;-)

Some people have wondered why I listen to heavy metal and hardcore music, given my leaning towards Hinduism culture and beliefs, including the Indian classical music which obviously sounds completely different! These people haven't suggested I stop listening to my heavy metal/hardcore music, no way, but they are curious how I can like two completely different styles. Well, I believe the above song demonstrates why. Sure, lyrics can go to any song in any genre, but when you put them to the sounds of hardcore and metal...they inspire one to get up and do something! And while there are a few metal/hardcore songs with objectionable lyrics, when you put inspirational lyrics to this same genre of music, it suddenly gets powerful.

This goes into another reason I love metal and hardcore - these songs can inspire anyone regardless of race, nationality, creed, or social status. The raw, earth-shaking sounds of this music can rile up anyone to move, to simply convert themselves into kinetic energy. It's for this reason that metal and hardcore have found footing in almost every corner of the globe. I know fans of these genres from literally halfway across the world (such as Indonesia). I know a documentary on the popularity of heavy metal in Baghdad, Iraq exists somewhere...I haven't watched it yet, but I want to. Regardless, when you see people of all skin colors thrashing about in unison to the performance of a metal or hardcore's nothing short of beautiful.

Sometimes I consider such music to be an expression of bhakti yoga...perhaps not to a specific Hindu God, but to life itself.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Mouse of Lord Ganesha

Namaste, fair readers. I come to you in this post with an observation that I hope you will find insightful. It has to do with Lord Ganesha's vehicle, popularly depicted as a mouse.

I think I more clearly understand why Shri Ganesha has a mouse for His vehicle. I shall explain below.

Today, as I've mulled over the day's events in my life, I noticed something about myself, and this is a tendency I have observed in others as well - we, as human beings, get caught up in the little details of life. These little details can make or break our mood and our perspective on life. We could have an otherwise pleasant day, and then one small thing happens - someone is mean to us, some unfortunate circumstance happens, etc. - and suddenly our day is ruined. Our mood turns foul, and we have a negative perspective of life. But the converse is true as well - we could have a really terrible, horrible, no-good-very-bad day, but then a fortunate occurrence happens or a random act of kindness comes our way, and all is well again.

The trick, I've discovered, is knowing when to focus on the little, and when to focus on the big picture instead. Likewise, Ganesha, a deity with a large body and the head of an elephant, has a small vehicle of a mouse.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

There's probably a myriad of other historical and/or socio-biological reasons why Shri Ganesha has a mouse. I'm not discounting those. But for me, just now I understand another aspect of life and happiness thanks to His help.

And that is another reason why Lord Ganesha is my Ishta Devata. Jai Shri Ganesh!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Video Game Ayurveda (This Might Be a Weekly Feature)

Namaste readers,

Hopefully you can tell via the links on the side of this blog that I follow the Art of Living organization. And hopefully you also know that the Guru of the Art of Living is H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. And I also love video games. The point I'm getting at is this: recently, in response to the horrible shooting in Connecticut that occurred last month, Guruji said something that I initially didn't agree with, but after thinking about what he said, I better understand.

To be specific, what Guruji said was that violent video games are (partly) to blame for such spree killings...they're not the sole cause, not by a long shot, but they can contribute. Honestly, when he first said something along these lines, my first reaction was utter disagreement, but that sort of came from a gut reaction that Guruji was trying to take my video games away. This gut reaction I later realized was false, as Guruji later elaborated that it was kids playing these violent games and then not being able to subsequently differentiate between fantasy and reality that was a contributing factor.

This is what made things clear for me - I actually began to agree with Guruji's point. I more clearly saw what the problem was: parents need to actually care about what their child is playing, and not let them play violent games. Government censorship of these video games is not the answer, and I realized Guruji was not advocating such; what is the answer is parents getting involved and caring about the video games their children play. You know, actually being parents for once! ;-)

However, I know some parents need help with this. That's why I'm pondering making a weekly feature on my blog about what video games are appropriate for children to play. I know for this particular blog post, I have one particular genre recommendation: racing games!

Racing games are plentiful on today's modern video game consoles (e.g. Xbox 360, PlayStation 3), and most provide a great way to involve the player in competition without having to resort to violence. Two I can think of right now are Forza Horizon for the Xbox 360, and Gran Turismo 5 for the PlayStation 3. And I can tell you, as a gamer, racing a car at high speeds is every bit as thrilling, if not more so, than shooting someone in another video game. I find racing games to be a very sattvic, non-violent alternative to first person shooters. And some studies have shown that playing racing games can make one a better driver in real life!

There are other non-violent game alternatives, but I'll stop here as this blog post is getting long. If there's enough demand, then each week I can highlight more non-violent video games. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Looks

Yeah, you may have noticed I changed the look of this blog somewhat - mainly I updated the background image. I changed the background image to that of an elephant to better indicate my devotion to Lord Ganesha, and also to hopefully make clearer the subject matter and intentions of this blog. I don't know if I will succeed with this new look, but still, I hope people don't have issues. I sincerely hope people enjoy the new look!

I'm putting in all kinds of new effort here to make this blog more readable and to broaden its reader base...but that doesn't mean I'm going to dumb this blog down. I just feel it's time I took this blog more seriously! Of course, if any of you readers have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them. :)

Link Dump

If you'll pardon the title, readers, a link dump is generally a good thing - basically it's a term for when a content creator of the Internet (such as myself) decides to share links that s/he finds useful, informative, fun, etc. So I've decided to share a few links in this post for informational purposes that I hope will serve you readers well. Hope you enjoy them!

First up, is a post on Speaking Tree, a site I just discovered where spiritual people can network. This particular post I'm linking to, though, has to do with a particularly insightful interpretation of the most popular story of Lord Ganesha's creation:

This is a commentary where the author of this post comments on a speech H. H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar made about Lord Ganesha, so it is a bit secondhand, but it is nonetheless insightful. I certainly enjoyed it!

The next link comes courtesy of Himalayan Academy, part of Kauai's Hindu Monastery, who also run the magazine Hinduism Today where I was previously published. This link is actually to a free eBook, which I found to be immensely helpful in understanding Lord Ganesha:

Not only is this eBook free, but it is incredibly informative on Lord Ganesha and how to worship Him. I certainly found it to be an invaluable resource.

I know I only have two links in this link dump, but I gotta start somewhere, right? :) There will definitely be more to come! Stay tuned, so to speak.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Yoga Fire!

Please pardon the tacky reference to the Street Fighter series of video games in this post title (look up "Street Fighter Dhalsim" on Google, I'm too lazy to explain it right now), but I had to get your attention somehow. :-) This post has to do with - you guessed it - yoga.

For many readers, the first thing that pops into one's mind when yoga is mentioned is complex sequences of body-stretching, physically taxing poses. Believe it or not, while that is part of yoga, it's only a fraction of the whole equation. Yoga, at least as I understand it from what I've learned over time, I can best describe as the ultimate expression of faith in Hinduism. The word "yoga" is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, which loosely translated means "union." (I've heard some sources say it's more literally translated as "yoke," as in when you attach a beast of burden to what you want it to pull it is a union of sorts, but that's beside the point.) So yoga can be explained as a way to unify oneself with God. And just as the many Gods in the Hindu faith are manifestations of one Supreme, so there are multiple paths of yoga that all accomplish the same goal. There are four paths to be precise, and while my explanations may be oversimplified, I think they suffice:

-Karma yoga, or service to others
-Bhakti yoga, expression of devotional love
-Jnana yoga, study and contemplation
-Hatha yoga, the physical exercise form of yoga that many Westerners are familiar with

As far as myself, I mainly follow bhakti and karma yoga. I consider this blog to be a form of bhakti sometimes...I know I sometimes post devotional messages to Lord Ganesha in this blog. And as for karma yoga, I try to serve others through my writing and journalism...and I have found ways it can be of use to others. (My Hinduism Today article in the Jan/Feb/Mar 2013 issue, for example. :-) )

One thing I want to stress - just as singing Christmas carols doesn't necessarily make one a Christian, practicing hatha yoga doesn't necessarily make one a Hindu. It takes more than the ability to contort oneself to be considered a true Hindu. Likewise, one should definitely be aware of the Hindu roots of hatha yoga. While I'm not of the mindset that hatha yoga should be practiced exclusively by Hindus, those who do practice it should always remember where it comes from.

And as for Dhalsim from Street Fighter...I don't know where he gets the ability to elongate his limbs at will or what he has to do to spit fireballs, but whatever it is, it's not real yoga. Sorry. ;-)

Shree Ganesh TV Serial - First Impressions

Namaste once more, readers!

A fellow forum user from the Hindu Dharma Forums, upon reading that my Ishta Devata (i.e. personal God) was Lord Ganesha, recommended a TV serial from India for me to watch - Shree Ganesh, a TV serial which she said depicted Lord Ganesha as "the loving Supreme, worshipped by all." She pointed me to a YouTube upload of the series (which I'm guessing is legal as it's been up there a while), although one place to buy the series on DVD can be located at Exotic India Art.

I'm only on the first episode so far, but right now, I think this series seems poised to do just as this forum user said it would! Granted, it has special effects that are obviously low-budget, some overacting, and horribly synced subtitles (at least the version I watched), but even with all those obstacles the series still gets the job done. The first episode deals with the general aspects of Lord Ganesha, at least as interpreted by the creators of the series; of important note is how the plurality of the Gods of Hinduism is positively depicted here, for one solid reason, that reason being to make the God who created the universe be accountable! With all Gods being manifestations of the one Supreme, it makes more sense for the universe to function the way it does, at least more so than the view presented by Abrahamic faiths, in my opinion.

I know this is sort of an oversimplification of the first episode, but this blog post is more to say that I'll be looking into this series and posting more on it in the future, as it's definitely interesting. Check it out!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

At Least I Haven't Sold My Soul

Namaste readers,

You've probably noticed something different about this blog today - yes, there are ads in the blog now. I do apologize, but I have my reasons. One being financial, of course, but I'm not going to go into that reason as that would be violating my privacy. Please understand. :-P

However, as far as meeting that financial need, I think Google's ads here on this blog is the best policy for generating revenue. This is mainly because this blog is my space and I can do what I want with it, but this also allows the readers themselves to decide if the content on this blog is worth supporting. If you readers think this blog's content is worth something to you, then feel free to click on an ad; if not, don't. It's that simple. :) You can vote with your clicks as to how much my content is worth. It's up to you!

I'd like to think that these posts are worth something to somebody...I may be wrong. But if you readers strongly object to the ads shown on this site, please let me know.