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    Indian Music: A Connection to the Self

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008, 7:59 AM [General]

    The string instrument veena, the primordial percussion instrument damaru, and the wind instrument flute form a special trinity among Indian musical instruments. These instruments can be categorized as divinity’s choice as far as Hindu culture is concerned, for they are played to create the three components of music – melody, rhythm, and expression – by an ensemble of divine instrumentalists. The veena of Goddess Sarasvati creates musical notes, the damaru of Lord Shiva ties everything in the universe together with rhythm, and the flute of Lord Krishna is the source of expression and mesmerization.


    Influenced by this symbology, followers believe that God adores musical sounds and they should offer vibrations from musical instruments in temples as a part of their devotion. Offering music is comparable to offering food or voluntary services to the Personal God, all of which develop the same spiritual feel of surrender in the minds of devotees. In the presence of musical notes in the environment, followers try to remain in the perfected remembrance of the Divine. Eventually, they learn to forget themselves while playing and listening to their favorite instrument.


    In contrast to devotees, who play for their Personal God, the non-dualist worshippers of music trigger their spiritual evolution by considering musical sound as God, a notion often described through the ancient phrase “Nada-Brahman.” By experiencing the oneness of sound (Nada) and the Divine (Brahman), they too obtain the highest levels of ecstasy that are independent of musical factors like the mood of the composition, the complexity of note sequences, and the pace of rhythm.


    When the musician recognizes this oneness, which occurs after all early levels of perfection in technique and expression have been transcended, music becomes joy, not the means for joy. At this point, the sound of a melody from a string instrument no longer appears sweeter than the stroke of a percussion instrument, for both are musical sounds and accordingly forms of the Divine. Preferences are present only until a duality in musical notes and God is present. When musical notes become Brahman and represent his sound, there is no other God to connect to.


    At this stage in music, which appears plainly theoretical to most of us, one can say that perfection in music has been achieved. Just like the devotee musician who forgets oneself in the memory of the Lord while performing, the non-dualist worshipper of music forgets oneself in music to remember nothing but music. While one at this spiritual or musical plane may no longer be fit for entertaining fellow beings on a big podium, it fulfills what the Indian tradition anticipates from a ‘seeker of music’ as opposed to a ‘learner’ or ‘creator’ of music: finding God while finding music.


    About the Writer

    Dr. Mukul S. Goel is a spiritual writer and musician. His current areas of writing include Hindu spirituality, philosophy, classical music, and Vedic astrology.


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    Selfless Prayer: A Preparation for Bhakti

    Monday, August 11, 2008, 3:02 PM [General]

    While asking God for monetary gains, a house, education, or a more healthy body is not unethical, we may be worshipping only a self-limiting aspect of the Divine if our mind is fastened to our own desires. As we create a wish list of finite objects while worshipping, we do not try to connect to the One Who is Absolute Truth, Consciousness, and Infinite Bliss but apply for the blessings of a finite potency that can fulfill our dreams.

    In Hindu spirituality, this concept becomes explicit as certain expressions of divinity have become culturally associated with specific objects or gains that they can bestow upon us. While the principal forms of God, including Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva, are worshipped selflessly by followers as the manifestations of Brahman (the Absolute Reality), the lesser forms (demigods) are traditionally remembered only when their followers need a specific object in life. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna promises that whenever we desire something due to our ignorance and select a demigod to achieve it, He fixes our faith on the selected form so that our wishes may be easily fulfilled (VII: 20-21). Along these lines, the thousands of demigods in Hindu mythology, all elements of the same divinity, can also be understood as God’s reciprocation to our own desires.

    As we evolve and learn to connect, our wish list may expand to include goodness, some knowledge, some truthful fellow beings to interact with, some love in life, and some desires for “letting go”. This would mean that we are getting closer to God and are on our way to meeting Him. Eventually, we may start requesting Him for realization and deliverance from the universe. But only when we approach God with an empty wish list, not desiring even liberation, can we actually sense the original inspirations within us that are a result of a two-way connection with the Almighty.

    Similarly, we can worship the Divine Energy as the Mother for knowledge, wealth, and strength. But it is not until we take refuge in Her by transcending the short-term objectives of life that we worship the personification of the infinite source of universal energy and power. We need to learn to transfer the doership of all karma to Her and adore Her just for being there for us in order to realize that we all are Her favorite kids.

    God, according to Hindu thought, is everywhere -- in you, in me, in all matter, and yet He is beyond the universe. Accordingly, His availability to the individual soul is never a constraint. Our aim is to surrender to God so that we can experience Him within ourselves or call Him for a visit in person. And when we remember God just to remember Him, we start surrendering to God. The lack of any material objective during remembrance indicates that the devotional foundation of trust, truth, contentment, and an earnest aspiration to meet God has been made. This is where pure love or Bhakti begins, for the love of God, to exist in the heart, requires a permanent erasure of all human inclinations towards scheming, passion, and slackness from the mind. On the other hand, whether we opt for the ‘formless’ God or a God with attributes, large amounts of worldly knowledge and information about the Lord may not be necessary to understand that God pervades us all.

    Moving from duality to the non-dualist school of thought, where the individual soul and God are not really separate but appear to be separated due to our own ignorance, our desires remain as the only barrier in our connecting to our Self -- which is God. Because ignorance-borne selfish karma, laden with desires, are inept in destroying ignorance and cause repeated births in the world, any prayer to God solely for the fulfillment of our own desires does not contribute to our awakening. Through whichever yoga we choose, the introspective path of knowledge or the emotional path of pure love, when spirituality purges the difference between the individual soul and the Divine, ignorance, desires and the feel of separation -- all leave together.

    In spite of the fact that our desires, which are present when we are spiritual beginners, prevent us from worshipping God in His entirety, every prayer slowly and steadily helps us build a platform for our inner rise due to the tiny bits of pure love that are often unknowingly present in our communications. Even the elementary prayers that are directed towards an object of the material world may strengthen our habit of applying for a connection to the Divine. And it may not be long before we turn to the selfless mode of praying to activate selfless karma. Once we are in love with God, we are all set; God remembrance with a feel of surrender can desert all our remaining passions to connect us to God eternally.

    About the Writer

    Dr. Mukul S. Goel is a spiritual writer. His current areas of writing include Hindu spirituality, philosophy, classical music, and Vedic astrology. He has recently published a book titled “Devotional Hinduism: Creating Impressions for God” through iUniverse.

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    A New Book on Hindu Spirituality

    Sunday, August 10, 2008, 12:51 PM [General]

    From the first moment we utter a name of God with a wish to reach him, we trigger our spiritual evolution. As we eventually reach the peak of spirituality, we no longer desire liberation but aspire to love God forever. How does this self-growth occur in the devotional stream? How do our professional decisions, spiritual likings, and interactions with our environment influence our refuge in God? Dr. Mukul S. Goel answers these questions in Devotional Hinduism: Creating Impressions for God.

    Devotional Hinduism, self-published through iUniverse, perceives the path of surrender as the continual formation of karmic impressions for God in our mind so that we may eventually be blessed with pure love to realize our eternal relationship with him. It is a journey to a new reality where God is the “real doer” who continually guides us towards himself.

    While explicating Hindu beliefs, techniques for remembering the Personal God, and our relationship with Nature, Devotional Hinduism offers tips to college students and employees seeking to incorporate Eastern wisdom in their professional lives. This original presentation of Hindu spirituality, knowledge from the Gita, and commonly circulated thoughts from the Bhakti Saints also shares the author’s personal beliefs.

    Given below are some spiritual principles that have been touched upon in this book. Because Hinduism does not prescribe a standard set of beliefs, followers are free to choose the beliefs that attract them the most in Indian literature and culture and absorb them in their lives.

    * Once we connect to God (through remembrance) even for a moment, we are connected forever.
    * God incarnates on earth to spend time with his righteous devotees and guide humanity towards himself.
    * Even though God transcends his universe, there is oneness in all creation; once we understand that Nature does everything, we transcend the world as well.
    * With reincarnation in place, time is never a constraint in our spiritual journey.
    * As we get closer to God, our levels of happiness increase but our individuality declines.
    * As we reach the peak of devotion, we start loving our Personal God so much that we no longer desire liberation but aspire to love God forever.
    * Because all thoughts are continually recorded in the human mind as karmic impressions, we should develop more and more impressions of love and surrender till God is reached and all our impressions become redundant.

    (All these principles are supported by the Bhagavad Gita and the devotional saints of India.)

    The book is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iUniverse (ISBN: 0-595-50524-4).
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