27 October 2019
As Diwali, the festival of lights fast approaches, I am reminded of the victory of good over evil. This article is a reflection on how through constant introspection, I strive to explore avenues to continue following the Dharmic path.
Asatho Maa Sad Gamaya
Thamaso Maa Jyothir Gamaya
Mrithyor Maa Amritham Gamaya
Lead me from untruth to truth;
Lead me from darkness to light;
Lead me from death to immortality.
Vibrant festivals are a testament to the traditions and culture of my heritage. Born into a practicing Hindu family, everything was a celebration! Birthdays of Gods and Goddesses (Janmashtami, Birth of Lord Krishna), traditional festival (Navaratri) and even changes in seasons (Holi, festival of colours). While it is enjoyable to celebrate these festivals with family and friends, we should also understand the inner, spiritual meaning of these festivals to learn lessons in morality and good values.
My childhood memories of festivals typically include fun, food and family. As an adult I have also learned to incorporate the important dharmic lessons of each festival. These lessons have not only strengthened bonds within families but helped foster humanity as well. In keeping with these traditions, my mother used to tell me that festivals were created to uphold dharma. For example festivals celebrating the harvest take place during seasonal changes to allow farmers and producers to participate and reap benefits. As years passed, I did my best to keep alive the moral and value based significance these festivals tried to teach us and ensure that I not only practiced these in my own life, but that I also taught its significance to others.
A lesson without experience cannot really be digested. If you’re a teacher as I am, you’ll know what I mean. In my profession, we call it ‘instruct’, ‘try’ and ‘apply’. My ‘apply’ lessons have always been directed by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. So much so, that when an opportunity for new learning presents itself, I brace myself for the storm ahead in applying my learning in real life, comfortable in the knowledge that He is always there to support me if things don’t go as planned.
For me, Diwali is the 5-day celebration to introspect on whether I have successfully implemented the lessons I teach to others and if I have retained the essence of Diwali in myself throughout the year. It is also a time for me to personally reflect on whether I have buried the 10-headed demon within.
Although, the lessons in morality occur during the celebration of Diwali, the introspection begins well before. During my childhood, preparation for this celebration began with my entire family cleaning our home together. Bhajans would be playing throughout our home. Namasmarana would be on everyone’s lips. Tidying our outward abode also prompted the inner cleansing to take place at the same time. This falls in line with Bhagawan’s words on the importance of cleanliness, “Students have to pay great attention to another important quality - cleanliness, both outer and inner. When either of these is absent, that person becomes useless for any task.” - Vidhya Vahini (Stream of Thought Which Illumines) by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba
Once our home and hearts are cleansed, traditional lamps are lit for 5 days, welcoming Laxmi (Goddess of wealth). During this period only sathwic (beneficial, equanimous) music, food and conversation were permitted. A practice I still implement even if I am away from home during this time. This cleansing of anything rajasic (overly energetic influence) sets me up for the entire year, except now, in addition to the sathwic list is social media - I put a cap on that, too.
Diwali is a celebration of the victory of good over evil as depicted in the Ramayana (ancient story of the Rama Avatar); the upholding of dharma takes place through the multitude of characters who all play their part in this great depiction of Lord Rama’s life. For me, each one represents a life lesson. The reason being that, at specific instances in my life, these characters were presented to me to teach me valuable life lessons. The troubles of Lord Rama taught me that life is uncertain and that overcoming obstacles is a necessary part of my spiritual growth. This is in keeping with Bhagawan’s words ‘life is a game, play it’ and gives me the strength to face struggles with patience and forbearance. On the other hand, Mother Sita is the light of hope that shines despite the circumstances she finds herself in. She is a pillar of faith when all seems lost; she teaches me to trust the ‘Sai spirit’ within me, by recognising the divinity in all beings and helps me to recall Bhagawan’s words of “Why fear when I am here”. Lord Hanuman symbolises spirituality and devotion, he is the sibling and friend I strive to be. And Mother Kaikeyi who portrays misguidance, inevitably teaches me the importance of good company.
The second day that holds great significance is Govardhan Pooja (prayerful observance of an incident in the Krishna Avatar story), which traditionally falls the day after Diwali. This is a celebration of Lord Krishna defeating Indra, the deity of thunder and rain. The story goes, that after seeing farmers and villagers preparing offerings for Lord Indra every year, one year Lord Krishna instructs them that they should be doing their duty (dharma) and concentrating on farming properly and protecting their own cattle, rather than undertaking elaborate worship praying for prosperity and protection. Convinced by Lord Krishna’s guidance, the villagers unanimously decide that dharma is more important and choose to focus on that instead of propitiating Lord Indra. Thwarted by this break in tradition, Lord Indra gets angry and threatens to flood the village with heavy rains and stormy weather. However, his plan does not succeed as Lord Krishna lifts the famous Mount Govardhan on his little finger, providing shelter to all the villagers and their cattle, protecting them from the storm. Defeated by Lord Krishna’s righteous stance and mighty action, Lord Indra accepts Lord Krishna’s words as true and joins in the celebrations to uphold dharma.
Every year, as we outwardly prepare for this prayerful offering and work as a family to build our own Govardhan Hill, inwardly, I take the time to introspect and contemplate if I have fulfilled my own duty to uphold dharma throughout the year.
This Diwali, I look forward to my rajasic detoxification and insightful introspection. I pray to Bhagawan to send through lessons and the opportunities to learn and practice to uphold Dharma through the Sathya Sai Organisation that He has so lovingly created and I look forward to another year of making my life His message.
Wishing you all a Happy Diwali.
Om Sai Ram
Jaina Keshav Patel
Deputy National Young Adult Coordinator & National STP Lead
Sathya Sai International Organisation UK