19 Mar 2016

The Initiation of Swamini VishwaNireeshwariLakshmiPriya Mata

We would like to introduce you to the newest Swamini in the Bhakti Marga family: Swamini VishwaNireeshwariLakshmiPriya Mata.

Swamini NireeshwariLakshmiPriya Mata will be responsible for the country of Canada.

We sat down with Swamini NireeshwariLakshmiPriya Mata and asked her to share her story with us.

How did she meet Guruji?

Swamini NireeshwariLakshmiPriya Mata met Guruji in 2015, in Shree Peetha Nilaya - only one year ago.

When Phoenix (Swamini's past name) came to Shree Peetha Nilaya for the first time, she said she didn't know who Guruji was, didn't know that she needed a guru. She was coming to the ashram with more than 3 decades of walking down a spiritual path - one that had led her through Catholicism, Sikhism, Islam, and Zen Buddhism. "There were many paths, but to me, these were all like many fingers on one hand." She had prayed to God with all her heart, since she was a child, that He should let her be on her spiritual path.

One day in 2015, she went to pray, to ask God to let her be on her spiritual path. She felt like there was a shift needed, that her life was not enough about her spiritual relationship the way it had been going. She had been working in Toronto and pursuing spiritual practices as before, but it felt stagnant - something needed to change, but what, she wasn't sure.

A few days later, a friend of hers was talking with her, and brought up that she had heard about an ashram in Germany, where there was a master named, Sri Swami Vishwananda. This was the right opportunity, at the right moment.

She made the journey across the Atlantic, and almost as soon as she arrived, she was jumping into learning about all that Sri Swami Vishwananda and Bhakti Marga could share. She heard about the OM Chanting and Atma Kriya Yoga practices from the residents of the ashram, and started practising them as soon as she could.

Two days after arriving at SPN, Guruji came back from his travels. That evening, he started singing bhajans in the temple, and even though Phoenix didn't understand what bhajans were, or what the words meant, it felt right - this was the spirituality that she'd been longing for.

Swamini said, looking back on that moment, "He saw how hungry I was. I was starving for spiritual food. I devoured that food! I had been waiting for 37 years. When I got the chance, I started it right away."

Swamini's initiation

The two weeks leading up to Phoenix's initiation as a swamini was a whirlwind of activity. She started the journey with the two week long Atma Kriya Yoga teacher training, which is known for being an intense process of learning both what to teach and how to teach the highest sadhana on the planet. Phoenix was enjoying the training very much, but at five days in, she was feeling overwhelmed. There was too much to do!

She went to his picture and said a prayer: that she would become the teacher that he wants, that she would surrender whatever happens to him, that she would walk his path. "I offered everything to him, and I said, 'I just want to please you!' I offered everything back to him, so he could deliver the message."

The next day, the AKY teacher-trainees each gave practice speeches. After Phoenix's presentation, people were impressed. One teacher trainer said to her, "Phoenix, you were the queen of the room."

Swamini spoke of her 'walk' with Guruji as being a similar pattern: she acts on her desire for God, for spirituality - showing up to do the work with a heart full of enthusiasm. She prays, and surrenders the work to God and Guru before it ever begins, that it's clear to herself that she walks in with no expectations. Then, the work is done, through grace - and it's often done with greater impact than anyone imagined it would be.

At the end of the AKY teacher training is a three-day initiation to become an Atma Kriya Yoga teacher. The day after the AKY Teacher Training ended was Shivaratri, and there was still much more to train. In those few days, Phoenix had long training sessions with many of the swamis: in puja practices, in the topics taught by the Bhakti Marga Academy, and more.

When Shivaratri came around, Phoenix had been told by the Shree Peetha Nilaya swamis that she was going to be initiated as a swamini, and had brought a suitcase of orange clothes for the initiation, according to their instructions. However, in her habit of keeping no expectations, even during Shivaratri, until the last moment, she kept the suitcase of orange robes locked in a room - not even wanting to look at them until Guruji initiated her, in case she would create an attitude of expectancy.

And the initiation did happen.

Two swaminis were with her to perform the ritual abishekam during the heavy snowfall of Shivaratri's celebrations. Before they began, Guruji appeared and instructed them to, "Hurry up, do it fast. I don't want her cold" before going back to the Shivaratri prayers.

When asked about how she'll spread Guruji's mission in Canada, Swamini NireeshwariLakshmiPriya Mata said, "I'm not concerned about how I'm going to do Canada. He's going to do it for me. I just call him in to do the job. The path is not my path. God is calling us on his path. Offer everything. It's not about running around. It's not about working for a paycheck. It's like Krishna told Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, 'Offer everything to Me.' You'll see what happens."

After Shivaratri, Swamini NireeshwariLakshmiPriya Mata flew back to Canada and to Connecticut in the USA, to join Guruji in the beginning of his trip to the States, to initiate two temples. She said that on the flight back, everyone was coming forward to speak with her, to ask her about who she was, why she was dressed in orange robes, and to ask about the special quality that she was radiating. "People are very attracted to Guruji's light in me."

"When people ask how I am now, I tell them I'm blissfully full. I'm not happy - happiness comes from the outside. It can go up and down, so I'm not happy. I'm blissful. And I'm not half. Not a quarter. I'm full of this bliss. That's why I tell them I'm blissfully full."

Ram Navami is coming up shortly! For more information follow the link: http://www.bhaktimarga.org/events/event/ram-navami

18 Mar 2016

Stories from the Mauritius Pilgrimage

We'll wrap up the coverage of Guruji's trip to Mauritius with a few stories from the trip. One story is about the story of a great bhakta named Dhanajara, which Guruji told many times in his tour around the island. In a following blog post, we'll share the story of a hike that we went on during the trip, and how through Guruji's grace, we were able to escape a heavy tropical rain to enjoy a wonderfully sunny hike. We'll share the translation of the arati that Guruji sings every day in his puja to his personal deities. This arati was written by Mirabai, and gives a beautiful insight into the love relationship that we both seek and enjoy on the bhakti path. We'll also share the story of a 'chance' meeting with a Hindu bhakta at a temple, which was very moving - a simple experience, but full of love - just the type that Mirabai sang about in the Mane Chakhar Rakho Ji arati.

The Story of Dhanajara and Raja Thakur

Guruji told the story of the child bhakta Dhanajara multiple times throughout the trip, at many of the darshans and satsangs.


Dhanajara was a young boy of around 4 years old, who lived in a village in India. His village guru was a sadhu, who he observed doing puja to a saligram shila - Mahavishnu in the form of a stone.


Guruji performing puja to two saligram shilas and to Giridhari at Ganga Talao, Mauritius 

Dhanajara asked the sadhu if he could have a saligram. The sadhu offered him a choice: either he could have "Raja Thakur" - which in reality was a normal stone the sadhu picked up, which people kicked down the street every day - or Dhanajara could have "normal" Thakur - which, unknown to the boy, was actually a proper saligram.

Here is Guruji's talk:

The sadhu said to choose which one he wanted. Dhanajara knew that "Raja" is something more special. He said, "I want the Raja one!" The sadhu took it and gave it to the boy. Dhanajara was extremely happy. He didn't know whether it was a stone or a saligram. He hugged the stone, and he was so happy that he was crying - tears were flowing from his eyes. He rushed to his mom and said, "Look! Guruji has given me this saligram!" Of course, his mother saw that this was a stone, so not to displease him, she said, "Okay." She was just laughing at him.

He asked his mom, "Please give me all the puja utensils. I want to pray to the saligram the same way that Guruji has been doing." Not to offend him, she said, "Ok. Listen, I don't have anything right now, but I'll give it to you. Tomorrow morning I will go to the market and buy it." That night Dhana held that stone. He was crying. Time to time he would wake up and he would cry. He was so eager, waiting for when morning would come, when he would go to the market and buy the utensils.

When morning arrived, he rushed to his mom, and said "When are you going to the market to buy?" The mother said to him, "Listen my child, to pray to Thakurji, you have to do one thing. You can't take things from others. You can't take things from somebody else, but you have to take it from yourself. You have to provide everything by yourself."

Then he was determined. He heard what his mother had said. He was determined to serve Thakurji. So, what he did, he gathered some flowers and some leaves. He didn't even know what is Tulsi leaves, so he gathered normal leaves everywhere, flowers which were available. For the chandan - the sandalwood paste - he took a brick from the house, because he saw that Gurudev was using some red paste. He took the brick from the house, and crushed it, and put water into it. Of course brick is made with earth, so when you rub it, it becomes red. Same as chandan. So, he was very happy to have flowers and the chandan, and for an incense stick, he took normal wood. He didn't take agarbhati, nothing. He just took normal wood. That's what he gathered. So, happily, with joy, he collected the bread from his breakfast, and the jaggeri - some sugar, candy - which his mom had given him. He collected for his prayer. He took some water, to wash the stone.

For him, it was a saligram shila. For him, it was Krishna. And he was calling him Raja Thakur - the King of all Thakurs. He prayed. He washed the saligram shila. He offered the flowers, and the leaves. He offered the stick as an incense stick. He offered the chandan. Of course, for him, it was chandan. For him, it was an incense stick. It was Tulsi. And also, for him, it was. For Thakurji, it also was. Mind you, here there was just a stone.

Then he offered the bread, and he offered the sugar. As Gurudev had shown him, he did the same. He closed the curtain, because when you offer bhog, to Bhagavan, you close the curtain afterwards, you know? We say that Bhagavan doesn't eat, no? But Bhagavan comes and eats. If you offer, purely, like Sabari had offered to Ramji, He will come and eat. So he didn't know any mantras. He didn't know anything. He didn't even know who Bhagavan is. So, he offered in the way he saw, from Guru Maharaj. He was waiting that Thakur would eat the food.

What he would do: he would draw on the curtain. He would look. Peep inside: "Oh, He has not eaten." He would wait. So, you see: because of his devotion, that stone, which was a normal stone, which everybody was kicking on the street while walking. All the animals were passing by, and their feet were kicking it! But through his devotion, through his selfless devotion inside of him - single-pointed devotion, and also in the trust that he had in his Gurudev, Bhagavan Himself manifested into that. Bhagavan doesn't manifest just like that, you know? He wants that one is completely surrendered.

To be completely surrendered, what He does? He waits. He hides Himself. The same way He did with the gopis. He called the gopis, and told them, "Come, come, come!", then after, He said, "Why have you come? Go, go, go!" First He says "Come," then He says "Go!". What happens during that time, you know, is what emerges from inside. The more you wait, the more the fruit is sweeter. The quicker you get something, the more quickly you lose it. It comes, and goes. But when you know how to handle certain things, it stays for a longer time. It stays forever.

So here, Dhana was waiting. When will Thakur eat? The mom called him. He said "No, no, no, I'm waiting for Thakur to finish His food. When Thakur finishes his food, then I will eat." Here, we will sit, and think, "When will Swamiji finish? I want to go home, and eat. I have cooked food nicely."

Here, Dhana was sitting, on and on, thinking of when Thakur would eat, and Thakur was looking at him wondering, saying, "We will see how long can you wait for Me? How long can you long for Me? I have been waiting for you for many lives. Not only one life. You know only one life." Here Thakurji said, "To get this devotion, to remember that, I've been waiting for that moment since many lives. You have come so many times here! I long for your devotion. I long to be in your presence!" So He made him also wait.

Dhana started crying and crying, saying "Thakur, what have I done? I don't know any mantra, anything. That's why You're not eating!" Of course, you see, there's a limit, to everything. There's also a limit to where the Lord can't see the bhakta suffer. How can He see a 4-years old kid suffer?

So, He manifested Himself. He started eating the bread and the sugar. You know, when you eat, it makes some sound. Especially when you're eating sugar candy, what happens? You have to break the candy. It makes sound. So in the same way, when Dhana heard that Thakurji is eating, he opened the curtain, and to his amazement, he was face-to-face with Krishna. He could not hold himself. He just started crying. Krishna, when He looked at him, He smiled, and when He saw Dhana crying out of love for Him, He also started crying.

Like that, Dhana, everyday, served Krishna, his Thakur. For him, "Thakur" and "Bhagavan", all these names were just his friend. He didn't know any difference. He didn't know that Bhagavan is the one that you stand in front and pray to. And he didn't know that this Krishna is the same Bhagavan who created the whole universe, who has created the whole world. He didn't know about that. For him, he loved Krishna. He loved Him with all his heart, you know? And day by day, his love grew more and more. That bhakti grew more and more inside of him.


So, time passes. Dhana grew up. Of course, he started to learn. He learned that Bhagavan Krishna, which he called his friend before, is the supreme Lord Himself. He is the supreme Lord of the universe Himself. He is Bhagavan. He loved Krishna dearly, but the mood inside of him began to change. He started looking at Krishna.

You see, before, he used to feed Krishna like the gopas, 5,000 years back in Vrindavan. How were they? Did they have any restrictions on how they loved Krishna? No, they loved Him dearly, but they didn't pray to Him. Even inside of them they know that He is Bhagavan, He is the supreme Lord Himself, but yet, they love Him as a friend. Here, the Lord also reciprocates that love, as a friend. That's why they could carry Him. They could play with Him. They could tease Him. They could beat Him, they could feed Him. They could tell Him everything.

If that relationship would not be there, do you think they would be able to do that? No, they would not be able to do that. What would they do? "Bhagavan, Agya Dijiye: give me orders that can I do for you!" But Bhagavan didn't manifest Himself just to give agya - He didn't manifest Himself just to order people. He has manifested Himself to remind you of His Love - how much He loves you, and how much you must love Him. It's not just 'come and sit and pray'. No. You should love Him! And know, that He loves you! He always reciprocates the Love.

The more you love Him, the more He loves you. Love Him until you can't love more than that. Then let Him do. He can love you much much more. You, as a human, because of the mind, because of this body, one is limited. But Bhagavan is not limited. He is unlimited. His Love is also unlimited. You can love Him to your maximum.

Like Dhana. He loved Him dearly, as a friend. He didn't know who Bhagavan is, until that bhav changed. Then, he started serving Bhagavan, he carried on serving the deity, the saligram, the same way, but Bhagavan would appear to him, and quickly would disappear. After some time he started wondering why.

Why was He different before? Why was it great joy before? It's like when you start your spiritual path, you know? At the beginning, you take deep resolution to move forward. And then, in the middle, you start (in Creole) carot caroter [the enthusiasm that we had goes away]. Same thing with Dhana. This enthusiasm he had inside of him was not the same as before.

Before he was eating and he was feeding Thakur. And this time, it changed. Before, he didn't know. He had bhakti, he had this pure devotion - innocent. Now it was filled with jyaan - knowledge. Due to that knowledge - it is important to have knowledge, don't get me wrong - but knowledge without bhakti is useless. If knowledge really would lead you to God-realisation, every knowledgeable people would have realised themselves by now.

Why are realisations less? There are not so many people who have realised themselves. Why are there so many wise people? You know, many people can sit on an asan and talk, no? Many people can stand there and talk to a stadium of people. It doesn't mean that they are realised. If they don't have this bhakti, if they don't live this bhakti themselves, they are not realised.

So, Dhana was simple, but then, when he had this knowledge that his is not his friend - he knows that He is Bhagavan Himself, the supreme Lord - what happened? His bhav changed, and he could not feel him. He had to put Him there, and do the prayer. That's what he would do. But before, he would feed him.

He started feeling very deeply sad. He would cry regularly, remembering the relationship that he had with Raja Thakur. So of course, the merciful Lord could not bear seeing him crying like that. He appeared in his dream and said to him, "My dear, I have never left you, but now that you have realised that I am Bhagavan, that bhav inside of you" - you know, when we come here, in front of the temple, what do we do? We pray, no?

Dhana was crying. Bhagavan appeared in his dream and said to him, "Listen, now, you have grown up. If you want to achieve back again this relationship, this feeling that we had, go to Kashi. There is Ramananda Acharya. Go and get advice from him."

You see, Bhagavan was very dear to him. They had a very close relationship, but yet, when jyaan had entered the mind, one gets corrupted. Very often, people are so wise, but they become so arrogant of their knowledge. That knowledge will die with you.

You can be very wise. When you die, do you carry the knowledge with you? No! You don't carry it with you. Next life, you will have to study again, no? But, spiritual knowledge - receiving from a true Guru - that you will carry always with you, because it's not external only, but it's also internal. Everything else will give you outer satisfaction, but spiritual knowledge gives you inner satisfaction. And this inner satisfaction is very important. Spiritual knowledge gives you this inner satisfaction, and reveals your relationship with God. But devoid of bhakti, this is not possible. You can chant how many mantras you want. You can do any kind of yoga you want. It always stays mechanical, only.

Dhana went to Kashi, receiving the jyaan, the knowledge, from his Guru Maharaj, Ramananda Acharya. After he received that, he came back home, and this time he understood. He understood that we can love Him differently. We can have different relationships to Him - He is Bhagavan, no? And He has placed inside of each one, certain seeds. In the heart of each person, the Lord has planted different seeds, different forms of awakening, of how to awaken to reach Him. Otherwise, your atma is just sleeping. It has been sleeping.

Chaitanya, in the 1500's, said, jeev jago. He said, "Awake, o soul! Don't sleep!" If you keep sleeping, it will still sleep. Life after life you will sleep. And this eternal sleep doesn't finish! But when you choose to wake up, when you surrender to Him, then you choose to wake up. Then you are awake.

That's the inner awakening. The inner awakening is not something outside. It's something inside. Inner! The word itself says, inner awakening! So it is something from deep inside which is dormant, which is awakening, which is coming out, which surfaces itself. And that, kripa. That's His grace. Whenever He sends the Guru.

When you are ready, He sends you to the Guru. It is His grace, His kripa, that He wants you to fully attain Him. He wants you to fully realise. Not partially, but fully. But you don't know about that, what is fully realised - what is fully attaining Him. You know only a little bit, what your mind can perceive you, that wall which you have created, thinking that, "Yes, I want this. That's it." Once you've got it? "Merci bon Dieu! Bye bye!"

When Bhagavan hugged Dhana, he was filled with the same love again. He was filled with the same bhav that he used to have before. Only under the guidance of a real Guru. Now, the question will arise, "Who is a real Guru? Who is not a real Guru?" The real Guru is the one who can give you Bhagavan. He can give you that feeling. He can awaken this longing inside of you, to long for God more and more. Because the Guru is here for you - not for himself.

He wants you to achieve the highest state. That's why he has left his place, why he has come again on earth. Otherwise, why would the Guru come here? This Love that he feels for Bhagavan, he wants you also to feel the same! That's why choosing one's guru is very important. Because not all gurus can lead you there. There are many lokas - many devalokas, no? But the Ultimate, only the true Satguru can give it to you.


Guruji told the second part of the story the next day, at a darshan he gave in Marcellement:

Bhagat Dhana Ji
[Krishna told Dhana to] learn from him [Ramananda Acharya] what is a guru, and learn from him which quality Bhagavan has - which aishwarya Bhagavan has - and come back. Once he had gotten that knowledge, he knew. He came back to Krishna, his friend was never so happy, his friend had come back.

But yet, still, due to that ignorance, of knowing that there's a difference between God and you, that friendship destroyed. He tried his best to please Krishna, but it was not possible. There was always a distance between them, and that distance, Krishna was longing for it - Krishna was not longing for the distance, Krishna was longing for the service.

You see, service is not one way. Very often we say, "Yes, we have longing to serve the Guru." It's true, you have to serve the Guru, but the Guru Himself is serving you. It's not only one way. It's two ways. Guru Maharaj is uplifting you towards God realization, towards God consciousness. And for you to be serving the Guru means that you are purifying yourself. You are removing all the ignorance from you, so that you can be ready to receive what Maharajji is giving to you.

So, here, Bhagavan also, longing the same way, for this relationship with Dhana. But Dhana: deep inside he was very happy, but yet, he could not be friendly with Krishna.

So what he did? One day, the father of Dhana called him, and said, "Listen, you have this field I am giving you." He said "Yes," Dhana had his house and his duty, and he has also his field to look after. If he didn't look after the field, he would not have anything to eat.

So Dhana started working in the field. As he started working in the field, he was sowing some seeds, and some sadhus were passing by. They came to him, and said, "Dhana, we are very hungry. Can you please give us some food?" The food which was available at that time was just the grain which he was sowing. He took the grain, he boiled it, cooked it, and gave it to the sadhus.

In the other side, Krishna was wondering, "How can I make him serve Me, the same way I was serving him?" What Krishna did, inside of Dhana, He awakened the feeling, "Ah, I can't look after this big field by myself. I need somebody to look after it." Having this inner feeling that he had to have somebody to look after the field, Krishna disguised Himself as Saujaha.

Saujaha came. He said, "You are looking for somebody to look after your field?" "Yes, yes, I am looking for somebody to look after the field." He said, "Here I am. I will look after your field, but with one condition: you give me one-third of the crops." One-third of the crops is a lot of things, no? "One-third is too much! I will give you one-quarter." Saujaha said "No, I want one-third, nothing else."

This is very important to understand. You see, in our tradition - in the Hindu tradition - whatever you receive as income, normally is divided into three parts. One part you look after your family. One part, you do seva with it. Another part, you should use it for the society. I am sure nobody will really follow that, because if you follow that, and say "I myself don't have enough, then how would I follow that?" Here, Dhana also is saying the same thing, "I don't have enough. I don't give you one-third, I give you only one-quarter." He said, "No, I don't accept one-quarter, I accept only one-third." That's what is written in the Shastras. Finally, Dhana said, "Ok, I will give you one-third."

Then, Saujaha, Krishna in disguise, said, "I want also that you serve me breakfast, lunch, and dinner." Dhana said, "Ah, you want me to serve you the same way you are serving me?!" He said "Yes. Look, if I had a wife, it would be easy, but I don't have a wife. If I leave your field to go and cook three times a day, what would happen? Animals would come and eat it." So Dhana said, "Fine, I will bring you breakfast, lunch, and dinner." Saujaha said, "Ah, but with one condition you can bring it - that we can eat together."

Krishna made him serve Him, and when Dhana would bring the breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they would have great joy together, eating together.

So one day, Dhana needed to go somewhere, and he needed to bring the breakfast in the early morning. So he brought the breakfast in the early morning, thinking that Saujaha is still sleeping. He saw the clothes and the blanket there. So he went inside quietly, not to disturb him. He lifted the quilt to say to him, "Look, I brought the breakfast. Have it."

To his amazement, what was in Saujaha's place was Krishna. Krishna was lying, covered with a blanket. When Krishna realised that Dhana is here, He changed again His aspect into Saujaha.

Of course, now that He had been discovered, there is no way back. Dhana, at the same time he was very happy, he was very angry. Krishna wanted to see that anger also inside of him, because you can be angry with your friend only when your friend is dear to you! If your friend is not dear to you, why would you get angry? Then, you use nice words. Flattery.

So, Krishna was discovered. Dhana was so happy, that he had gotten back this bhav inside of him, that it was his friend. This is what Guru Maharaj gives you, once you surrender on your spiritual path. The Guru, in a touch, can give you everything, IF you are ready. If you are not ready, why would the Guru give you? Then he has to work on you! Then, step by step, he will purify you.

He will purify from outside. He will purify you from inside! Sometimes it will be very difficult, due to your mindset, how it is. Your mind always expects and expects and expects how it has to be YOUR way. You want to hear what YOU want to hear! You want the Guru to tell you, "Yes, it's like this. Yes, it's like that." If the Guru tells you, just like this, that's not a Guru. Then, you have to be careful, that he's just flattering you, to please your mind. No. The Guru has to destroy that mind! If the Guru tells you something which is against your self, don't shut the Guru. Accept it.

11 Mar 2016

Maha Shivaratri 2016

Maha Shivaratri is the time of year when we come together to honour the greatest bhakta of them all, Lord Shiva. From the sounds of the Damaru drum, to the shouting of "Hara Hara Mahadev", the night was filled with devotion towards the Ultimate Destroyer, Shankar. As mentioned in previous posts, Lord Shiva is a symbol for the destruction of our ego and pride, but it's not only this destruction that we commemorate. On Maha Shivaratri, we offer our gratitude to Lord Shiva  for the great blessings and sacrifices that He has given and undergone for the sake of humanity. One such case was when Shiva saved the devas and asuras during the Churning of the Milky Ocean from the deadly poison, "Halahala." It is for Lord Shiva's sacrifice of Love, among many other reasons, that we celebrate Maha Shivaratri.

The morning prayers began at the early hour of 5:00 a.m. By worshiping the Guru first, the devotional Guru puja set the tone for the offerings to come. Upon Sri Swami Vishwananda's arrival, the Kalash puja had already begun and it wasn't long until Swamiji began to pour water over the Mrityum Bageshwar lingam and his personal deity, Giridhariji. Simultaneously, there was a yagna conducted by the Bhakti Marga Swami's taking place. After the yagna had concluded and Guruji had finished his first part of the abishkeham, everyone was able to offer both water and a bilva leaf to the lingam and Giridhari. The morning ended with the singing of the Lingashtakam and prayers to Lord Shiva, ensuring that the night to come would be a success. 

The evening celebrations kicked off with a powerful start. The Shiva bhajans were rocking and the devotees stood up to dance. With the singing of "Bam Bam Bhole! Bam Bam Bhole!" amidst  the chanting of "Swaha" during the yagna, the energy quickly elevated.

The prayers only intensified when Sri Swami Vishwananda arrived. Throughout the entire night, Swamiji would make offerings to the Shiva Lingam and sing bhajans dedicated to Mahadev. In between all of this, each person was able to continue to make the auspicious offerings to the Mrityum Bageshwar lingam.

The last puja was the grandest of all. As Lord Shiva is easily pleased with the smallest of offerings, one can only imagine how pleased Mahadev could have been with the plentiful plates of prasad. The kitchen team truly did a remarkable job. The prasad itself was constructed as Shiva Lingams and a design of Shiva's trishul. And when the ceremony was over, the taste matched the presentation, and though the Lord truly only cares about the Love which is offered, Mahadev was probably also pleased with the service of the culinary skill.

Towards the early morning, the fighting of sleep was victorious by most, and the final offerings approached. The amount of vibhuti that Swamiji offered to Lord Shiva was remarkable. Mounds and mounds were poured over the lingam. When the concluding prayers had finished, Guruji spoke shortly about the night of celebration and gave a guided meditation for Mother Earth. Here's a small excerpt from what was spoken: 

You see, the blessing that you received, you know, like I said, the upliftment that you received today, other days you don’t receive that. That’s why this day is considered very auspicious. Yesterday [at the Shiva lecture] you heard them talking about Lord Shiva. So, you know who Bhagavan Shankar is and you know how important it is to have His blessing, and to have Ma Bhagavati Jagadambe’s blessing also, because they open the door for Giridhari to reveal Himself. Giridhariji is very shy. (Well, before He reveals Himself He is shy; after He reveals Himself He is not that shy anymore.) But until you reach that point of knocking at His door, you need Lord Shiva’s blessing. That’s why you see after the Mahabharat war that Bhagavan Krishna Himself said to the Pandavas, “Take refuge to the Feet of Lord Shankar. Go and do penance and when He comes, when He appears to you, then you know that all that you have done has been forgiven.” Here Bhagavan Krishna Himself said it, you know.

So, you have received lots of blessings. This world, Mother Earth, now needs your prayer, you know. I will ask of you just two minutes. I know you are very tired, and you are thinking about going to sleep. Even now if I tell you to close your eyes and think of Mother Earth, you will fall asleep. So I will just ask you for two minutes of your time. Let’s pray for peace. You know, we said, “Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu” earlier. Let’s pray for each of your countries, for each of your families and so on. But let’s pray for Mother Earth in general that there is peace in this world. Because if there is no peace, you can’t really concentrate on Bhagavan, true? When there is peace, then it’s easy. - Sri Swami Vishwananda

Thanks for reading our blog. If you didn't make it to Maha Shivaratri, check out Ram Navami which is taking place April 15, 2016. Follow the link for more information: http://www.bhaktimarga.org/events/event/ram-navami

To see more photos from Maha Shivaratri 2016, check out our flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bhaktimarga/albums/72157665433500502

6 Mar 2016

The Twelve Jyotirlingams (Part 3 of 3)


The Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlingam is located in the district of Nashik, India. The lingam itself resides underground and has three faces that represent Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Hence, the name “Trimbakeshwar” translates to, “Three Lords.” Among the legends of Trimbakeshwar, there is the story of Sage Gautama, the sage who had inevitably been involved with the killing of a cow. In order to be cleansed of this sin, the Rishis advised Sage Gautama to do penance to Lord Shiva. By praying to Lord Shiva, he asked  Mahadev to send Mother Ganga to his hermitage so that his soul and ashram may be purified. Lord Shiva was touched by Gautama's sincerity and devotion, and thus, Lord Shiva sent him the Godavari river, which is often referred to as the "Ganges of the South." After Lord Shiva's appearance to Sage Gautama, the Trimbakeshwar Jyotirlingam was manifested. 


The Mallikarjuna Jyotir Lingam is located in the Andhra Pradesh region of South India. As narrated in the Shiva Puran, Lord Ganesha had won the race around the world over His brother Kartikeya, by encircling Shiva and Parvati. Hence, Ganesha was granted marriage first. As Kartikeya was upset at His defeat, He traveled to the Kraunch Mountain where Shiva and Parvati both followed Him. Upon Shiva and Parvati’s arrival, Kartikeya left the mountain, but Shiva and Parvati stayed. It was at this spot that Lord Shiva eventually took the form of the Jyotirlingam known as, “Mallikarjuna.”


On the mountain Devagiri, there lived a brahmin named Brahmavetta Sudharm, and his wife, Sudeha. Because the married couple could not bear any children, Sudeha convinced her sister, Ghushma, to also marry Sudharm. By worshipping 101 Shiva Lingams formed from the Earth, and offering them into a nearby lake every day, Gushma soon begot a baby boy. Overtime though, Sudeha had become jealous of her sister and out of her jealousy, she killed Ghushma’s son and threw his body into the lake. The next day when Ghushma offered the 101 Shiva Lingams into the lake, Lord Shiva manifested Himself and revealed to her what happened to her son. Ghushma asked Mahadev to pardon her sister and to always remain near Devagiri. Lord Shiva granted her request and manifested Himself as the Grishneshwar Jyotirlingam. The lake also came to be known as, “Shivalaya.”


The legend goes that a demon by the name of Bhima had enslaved a devotee of Shiva named, “Kamrupeshwar.” When Kamrupeshwar wouldn’t worship Bhima as his Lord, the demon took a sword to strike a Shiva Lingam. Lord Shiva manifested Himself and went to war with Bhima. When the fight had gone on long enough, Lord Shiva incinerated Bhima to ashes. At the request of the sages and Gods, Lord Shiva manifested Himself as the Bhimashankar Jyotirlinga.

“Shiva stands for the mind. Shiva is Gyaneshwara. Another form of Shiva is Dakshinamurti. Dakshinamurti is the one which gives knowledge. The Guru is a form of Dakshinamurti which gives knowledge. But what is knowledge? Not the knowledge to fill up the mind. In the path of bhakti you have to have certain knowledge of certain things, but yet, you have to discharge, to put aside even that knowledge. Because the knowledge of the Self, Brahma Jyaan, is beyond the knowledge of the mind.” - Sri Swami Vishwananda

The beginning ceremonies for Maha Shivaratri is less than 24 hours away! If you plan on visiting Shree Peetha Nilaya for Maha Shivaratri and still need to register, click on the link here: http://www.bhaktimarga.org/events/event/maha-shivaratri

5 Mar 2016

The Twelve Jyotirlingams (Part 2 of 3)


During the time of Lord Rama, there was a  ten-headed demon king by the name of Ravana. Ravana wanted to make his capital, Sri Lanka, invincible with the presence of Lord Shiva. Through Ravana’s prayer, Lord Shiva granted him a Jyotirlingam to be taken to Sri Lanka, but only on the condition that wherever it was set down first, it would be permanently installed there. The Gods knew that if Ravana was to accomplish his goal, there would be dire consequences. By having Varuna, the God of Water, enter into the stomach of Ravana, it forced him to land on Earth with his vimana (flying chariot) to release the water. In simple terms, the Gods made Ravana have the urge to urinate. Thus, as Ravana descended to Earth, Maha Vishnu appeared in the guise of a brahmin. Ravana asked the "brahmin" to hold the Shiva Lingam temporarily and not let it touch the ground. As soon as Ravana left, Maha Vishnu set the Shiva Lingam on the ground and disappeared. Upon seeing what had happened, Ravana underwent penance to Lord Shiva by offering nine of his heads. Lord Shiva was pleased with his devotion and restored his heads back to him. This restoration could be compared to that of a doctor, hence, the Jyotirlingam is called, “Vaidyanath,” which means “physician.” 


The Vishwanath Jyotirlingam is located in the holy city of Varanasi, also known as, “Kashi” or “Benares.” Varanasi is said to be the place where the first Jyotirlingam had ever manifested. It is the place where Lord Shiva appeared as a fiery pillar of light before both Brahma and Vishnu. Since Brahma and Vishnu were arguing over who was superior, they had a race to find the end of Shiva’s manifestation. As one could expect, Vishnu was victorious, as He declared that there was no end to Shiva, whereas Brahma had lied and said that He found the end. Because of this lie, Lord Shiva cursed Brahma to never be worshiped. The Vishwanath Jyotirlingam attracts many pilgrims, as it is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in all of India. 


After Lord Rama had killed the demon king, Ravana, Rama felt discontent inside because He had killed a brahmin (Ravana was the great-grandson of Brahma). At the same time, Lord Rama also wanted to express His gratitude to Lord Shiva. Thus, Lord Rama asked Hanuman to go get a Shiva Lingam from Benares. But because Hanuman didn’t arrive in time for the auspicious moment of prayer, Sita Devi formed a Shiva Lingam out of earth that is now known as “Rameshwar,” the Lord of Rama. The Lingam that Hanuman brought back was also installed, and it is tradition to worship the Hanuman Lingam, also known as the “Kaasilingam”, before the worship of Rameshwar.


After the battle at Kurukshetra between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, Lord Krishna told the Pandavas to seek the Darshan of Lord Shiva. While chasing Lord Shiva in the form of a bull, Bhima grabbed onto Shiva’s tail so strong that His head flew off and landed in Nepal. The hind stayed in a place called Kedar, and it is here that Lord Shiva gave Darshan to the Pandavas. From this event, Lord Shiva promised to stay in Kedar in the form of a Jyotirlingam.

“Let’s look at the Shiva Lingam, what do we see? The Shiva Lingam is divided into three parts. The upper part, the middle part and the base part. The creation is the base, protection is the middle part and the destroyer is the top part. Also, the Lingam represents the infinity (the infinite), because it doesn’t have a beginning or an end. It is round - whatever point you take on a round (object), you go around and around, you will always go on the same point.”- Sri Swami Vishwananda

Maha Shivaratri is two days away! Register today to reserve your spot at Shree Peetha Nilaya: http://www.bhaktimarga.org/events/event/maha-shivaratri

4 Mar 2016

The Twelve Jyotirlingams (Part 1 of 3)

India is a land characterised by Her holy pilgrimage sites. It is a place where great saints have lived, where timeless truths have been revealed, and where the Lord has appeared to His devotees. For Lord Shiva, there are twelve primary pilgrimage points. These twelve spots are made auspicious from the presence of a Jyotirlingam, a self-manifested form of Lord Shiva. In this three part series, we will highlight these twelve manifestations to provide a small introduction for both the Jyotirlingams, and Lord Shiva Himself. "Hara Hara Mahadev!"


The Somnath Jyotirlingam is located in Gujarat, India. The story goes that Chandra, the moon-God, had been married to the 27 daughters of Prajapati Daksh, but of all his wives, Chandra only gave his love to Rohini. Because of this, Prajapati Daksh cursed Chandra to lose his beauty and radiance completely. From the advice of Lord Brahma, Chandra underwent severe penance to please Lord Shiva. After a long time, Lord Shiva blessed Chandra that he would regain and lose his radiance in fifteen-day cycles. From this blessing, the Somnath Jyotirlingam was manifested.


The Mahakaleshwar Jyotir Lingam is located in Ujjain, India. It is said that King Chandrasena, who ruled Ujjain, was a great bhakta of Lord Shiva. One day, a small boy named Shrikar, became inspired by seeing the king’s devotion and picked up a stone to worship as a Shiva Lingam. Despite ridicule from his mother and others, Shrikar’s devotion only grew for Lord Shiva. Meanwhile, the city of Ujjain had also become under-attack by both the demon “Dushana” and its neighbouring rivals. King Chandrasena took refuge at the feet of Lord Shiva, and Shiva appeared as the terrifying form of “Mahakala” to destroy the demon and all of the enemies. Due to the devotion of Shrikar, King Chandrasena, and the local priest, Vridhi, Lord Shiva installed Himself in the city as a Jyotirlingam to protect all of His devotees. 


There are a few stories regarding the history of the Omkareshwar Jyotirlingam. One of these stories recollects that the Divine Sage Narada sang the glories of Mount Meru to Mount Vindhya. Upon hearing this, Mount Vindhya became jealous and decided to do penance to Lord Shiva. Mahadev was pleased by his penance and granted him the boon to be bigger than Mount Meru. It is said that the lingam Mount Vindhya worshipped was split into two parts. One part became the Omkareshwar Jyotirlingam, and the other became known as the “Mamaleshwar,” or, “Amareshwar.” 


As narrated in the Shiva Purana, the demon Daruka, and his wife, Daruki, had imprisoned many devotees of Lord Shiva. Due to their pride, they sought out to end all the auspicious ceremonies and rituals. Among the imprisoned devotees was a Shiva bhakta named, "Supriya." By advising all the other prisoners to chant “Om Namah Shivaya”, Supriya had become the personal target of Daruka. Soon, Daruka tried to end the life of Supriya. When Daruka lunged at Supriya to kill him, at that precise moment, Lord Shiva manifested Himself and slayed both Daruka and Daruki. From the request of His devotees, Lord Shiva then installed Himself as the Jyotirlingam we know now as, “Nageshwar.”

“There is nothing which is called yours. Your Atma is who you are. Even this body doesn’t belong to you. It is made up of the five elements and what it will become, it will become the five elements. That’s why Shiva stands for the destruction, showing you that everything that you collect here, everything that you call ‘mine’, at the end is not yours. What is yours is only the pure consciousness, which in life you try the best to attain.” - Sri Swami Vishwananda

The hour of Maha Shivaratri is near! Register today to reserve your spot at Shree Peetha Nilaya: http://www.bhaktimarga.org/events/event/maha-shivaratri