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Wednesday May 30,2007: Lakshmi Ritual, Commitment or Petition?

        I’m just back from another retreat with Dr. V.G.Kulkarni. The annual yoga retreat is usually held in November, but V.G. had been terribly sick and unable to leave his house, let along leave India. When he recovered six months later, the Ohio retreat was hastily rescheduled. What a delight to have open windows, warm breezes and the song of birds in the background. How wonderful to see the radiant faces of old friends.

         Friday night began with the usual Lakshmi puja. My ex sat close to the puja table. He is well versed in Hindu rituals and I’m quite sure he had a major hand in setting up the table and preparing everything for the ceremony. This year, above the table hung a gorgeous quilt with brilliant reds and greens, blacks and whites, based on a pattern that suggests a lotus flower or perhaps a mandala.

         My ex took his place at V.G.’s left, where he would be ready to refill the small pitcher of milk, yogurt, honey, bananas, sugar and saffron, as well as to hand over bowls and platters of nuts and flowers when needed. An Indian couple sat to the right side of the table, ready to assist those coming forward as we made our offerings.

        My youngest son had driven down just for the Friday night puja ceremony, and had brought some friends with him. It would be the young couple’s first exposure to a Hindu ritual, and, while my son may not be well-versed in the Hindu faith or belief structure behind the ritual, he has been trained by his father in the proper form to follow during the ceremony.

        As a non-yogi, I am always nervous about participating in this ritual. I usually sit so I can observe the older yogis as they make their offerings, so I can review the proper technique and (hopefully) not make a complete fool of myself. On Friday, I find myself sitting in the second row, my view of the front completely blocked. As Nate comes back from making his offering of flower petals, he signals to his friends that they are to pick up the petals with the thumb and fourth (ring) finger. I’d never known that before, and figure this is one of the many small ritualistic details that my ex has explained to Nathan.

        There are two ways to approach this offering. I take the approach that Lakshmi, as Goddess of Abundance, has already given many blessings to the world, is continually sending out blessings. I use the ceremony to recommit myself in service to the divine, so that the work within Its creation may continue. I ask nothing for myself because I figure the divine knows best what should come in my life. This is a ceremony of giving back---an expression of my love, devotion and dedication.

        The second approach is to give appreciation and devotion in hopes that Lakshmi will bring abundance into one’s personal life. Perhaps, if the ceremony is done properly, with the heart open in humility, the goddess will recognize the individual’s need and send the desired blessings, improving the quality and substance of one’s life. Personally, I have a hard time relating to this approach.

        Anne and I discuss a similar subject later that night. Anne says that most people come first to God in weakness, begging for help and support. They are not likely to think of God when things are going right in their world until they have established a deep relationship. I have grown up seeing this type of petition or prayer expressed in movies and in literature---“I know I haven’t prayed much in the past, but save me (or my loved one) now, Lord, and I promise to be a better person in the future.”

        It seems far removed from my own experience. I was in grade school when I began my personal relationship with the divine, and perhaps it was significant that it was not based on church ritual. I’d found a hide-a-way in the woods, a small hollow where I could be surrounded by small trees and brushes; it seemed as if I was cloistered within a natural cathedral, branches intertwined above me in green leafy arches, the sun shining through and creating patterns of light as if through stained glass. Here I found remarkable peace from psychic intrusions. As a spontaneous psychic, this became my one and only sanctuary from worlds that constantly intruded and disrupted my inner harmony.

        More than this, here in my sanctuary I could feel the presence of God. Why not? The God of my childish imagination would certainly rather be here in the midst of his creations than in some stone and brick church with man-made plumbing and lighting fixtures. Here I was sure God could hear the songs of my heart, even if I did not clothe those songs in words.

        As I grew older, I came to God to express appreciation and love. There were sayings I embraced because they made sense to me at some deeper level. “God helps those who help themselves” made sense because I could not see God creating a capacity for humans to think and reason, and then expect us to simply hand off responsibility for the problems of life to a higher power. I refrained from coming to God in the depths of struggles and came instead when I had resolved the problem, thankful and appreciative of the lessons learned.

        “God provides all that we need; it is up to us to figure out what is provided.” Too many people prayed for a house and never noticed when God provided them with a lumber yard. Perhaps they went on praying, wondering why their prayers were unanswered. Perhaps they gave up altogether, convinced God either did not hear their prayers or refused to grant help. No, if God provided, I felt it was my job to figure out what was provided. By looking around me, I often found new answers to problems, realized new skills that had to be developed, or turned to find other people ready and willing to offer help.

        The hardest times of my married life brought the greatest spiritual lessons. In a state of physical and mental exhaustion, burdened by the responsibility of house, children and financial problems, I could no longer go to God from a position of strength and appreciation. I asked for strength to endure, I asked for insight into the underlying causes of seemingly insurmountable problems. On the worst days, I imagined myself curled up in the giant hand of the divine, asking only that I have a resting place away from the daily stress, a place where I could sink into inner peace and safety, a place to regain emotional balance and harmony, freed momentarily from the never-ending responsibility for problems that never moved closer to resolution.

        After the divorce, in the midst of hard times, I might find myself asking for guidance, for strength of faith to wait and watch for what might be provided, but I went back to believing I could create a better world through my own efforts. I returned to the divine with a heart full of appreciation and dedication.

        Having sampled now the power of coming to God in weakness, I have a better understanding of those who approach ritual as a petition for divine intervention. But I think we sell ourselves short if we think of God as the ‘Great Provider’ and give up our own efforts. I do not think of ritual as a magic ceremony (if I do A, B & C properly, I will be rewarded with D). I believe the divine knows what we need (even without asking) and that the divine provides (even if in the form of help from friends or governmental organizations).

        There are times when people need to believe in miracles and divine intervention. They need to dream of winning the lottery or of escaping the laws of physical reality.  They place their petition before the altar of the divine and their heart is once again filled with hope. Hope is a powerful thing.

        Never mind that I believe the true magic of a ritual is the change that takes place in attitude and awareness, transforming the individual into a better person. We may come to the divine in weakness and ask for help, but we should let the ritual be a freeing of one’s heart and an opening of awareness, not a petition for hand-outs.  I prefer to ask for new insights, not for the addition of divine muscle power to blast forward with 'more of the same' approach to life struggles. 

        Yet, this is obviously my attitude, my opinion about a spiritual life.  Each individual has a choice in how he or she lives life.  I can only participate in the Lakshmi puja and focus on my own choice, rejoice in my own blessings.   I can only hope this ceremony brings good things into the lives of those present.

Posted on Wednesday, May 30, 2007 at 01:12PM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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