It gives immense pleasure to be part of this satsang, after witnessing the navaratrhi pooja, we all feel high and spiritually inclined. Our friend Sri Balaji has now this habit of inviting me every year to say a few words.... Long may live his naivety! How can I not accept such a lovely invitation! Thanks.... I only pray that whatever I utter and what you hear be the truth and nothing but the truth.

What is the purpose of these prayers and pooja.... Why do we do these? Don’ t we see many in the world who do not have such practises live happily! Why we need them?

In our scriptures, it is said grahastha, that is people like us who are family-dwellers, can be more revered even than the Brahma risis, as the grahastha has the opportunity to tread on multiple paths of spiritual realization than those who denounced worldly life... We all know the legend of the great Brahma risi Sukar and his absolute surrender to King Janaka, the greatest of the grahastha. Such is the opportunity for us, the family-dwellers, as the Sanatana Dharma paves the ways for betterment! To take up two parallel journeys.....

What are these two journeys? The first is an involuntary one! It is imposed.... time-bound and perpetual... we are in it whether we like it or not... you know what I mean. This is the journey of life! None of us got into the journey of life knowingly. Birth is not our choosing; we are here on the train of life, which is just prodding along the tracks of time. Only those of us, who wants to make the best of use of it, strive to make the journey a better one.... knowing well that we cannot stop the train or change our ultimate destination, but we strive at least to get a first class cabin with comforts... strive to steer through scenic and pleasing routes... and to make the overall journey a peaceful one. Perhaps, is that reason for our prayers? How does prayer help to achieve this?

Is it possible, just through prayers, we get the fortunes we seek? The million dollar lottery win? The elusive promotion in the Job? the dream marriage? the relief from the ailment? I am not sure... God is ever kind; He is all merciful.... yet He is a player by rules, the rules He has made. He is Dharamatma, One Who upholds the order. Our scriptures say that God is ‘karma phala datta’ meaning One Who dispatches the results according to one’s own actions. So our pain and pleasures are only our own making.... So perhaps God may not simply dish out what we seek.... but will hopefully make us do (or) transform us to perform in such a way that our actions are pure and the results are wholesome and beneficial.

Is that the purpose of prayer! If so, what is that transformation we need?

This is where the second journey comes in. This is purely voluntary; It is timeless; it is personal... It is in which we understand what makes us to think who we are! Such as ... Who am I, why I am in the involuntary journey as a cargo! The path to self-realization is the journey that only a brave can take. Perhaps this is what the purpose of the prayer.

Indeed prayers and especially ‘satsang’ or divine assembly such as this do elevate our spirits; It is joyous; We feel satisfied that we adhere to our tradition; Annual navaratri pooja is an occasion to meet others under an auspicious climate. These are really welcoming benefits. All the prayers, temple visits, pilgrimages, repetition of mantras, unfailing recital of slokams, bhajans etc are really good and these prepare us for the journey..... yet all these are only the preparation for the journey but not the journey itself. No matter how many years we practice the rituals and unfailing routine of prayer and worship, the journey does not start unless we decide to pursue.... We simply become more and better prepared, for the yet-to-be-initiated and all the more important journey.

Think of mountain-trekking. We want to climb the mountain, we trained our body; all necessary equipment in place; we are fully clad with gloves, scarf, hat etc. If we embark on the trek, we would comfortably reach the summit, compared to others who are unprepared.... but we remain at the foot-hill. Years and years of preparation make us fit for the ascend but our posture is paused and journey is yet to be pursued... Others may sometime look at us and think,” what is he up to.... what benefits of his outfit and preparation”..... We too, often heading to such criticism, forget the purpose of our preparation, and begin to lose faith and start to shed our equipment. That is futile.....

So how can we take this journey?

For this to happen, we need to secure three important tickets - that are indispensible, inseparable....

You see, as the journey is personal, and we live in the noisy world of external web of interactions, there are many forces that will drag you away from the path of your journey.... so the foremost ticket we need to procure is CONCENTRATION; this is focus, the summed up intensity of purpose. It is handle on our mind .. we all know the role of our minds.... it is both an architect and distracter of all our actions; it is vacillating;

We have to take ownership of our mind and its actions.... imagine if my hand keeps slapping every one ... If I say that it is not me, but my hand which is not in my control, who would approve that? It is no difference to my mind. Mind is a matter.... although a fine matter. It has to be subjugated. Only a subjugated mind can serve the discriminating intellect. So Concentration is the ticket that will get the subjugation of mind.

Concentration is a kind of physical and mental discipline.

The second ticket for this important journey is ‘ABSOLUTE SURRENDER’; it is an emotional discipline. What is surrender.....we often mistake that surrender is some sort of lowly action, a subservient behaviour.... This is not true. Especially in the spiritual endeavour, surrender requires true grit; only those who are strong and powerful can execute the act of surrender. We just did Hanuman Chalisa. Hanuman is the most handsome; most powerful; most intelligent; the best communicator; the greatest tapasvin; yet Hanuman surrenders to someone who looks an ordinary human-being – Rama! Unlike Krishna avatar, the Lord in His Rama Avatar endured only an ordinary but an upright humanly traits; Rama stood tall and as the best of human beings and to Him, Hanuman’s surrender is absolute!

Take Surrender to truly mean the transference of responsibility....

It is about transferring the onus to someone you unfailingly trust. If I surrender to my Guru, then it is the Guru’s responsibility to take me to emancipation or whatever the objective of my scholarship. So how can surrender be considered as lowly! Is it not a smart thing to do....

Take an example.... It is a busy street and looks dangerous to cross. The child looks-up to her father who offers his hands; The child holds his hand firmly; the grip is on trust and the responsibility is transferred. It is now the Dad’s turn to duck and dive, pause and move, change course to overcome the difficulties on the road to take her to safety; To the child, the very road that looked risky and dangerous before, is like a playground now; She can play, happily enjoy everything on the trust that her course will be cleared; she is in safe-hands! While others are dreading to tread the path, the child who offered true surrender, moves with enjoyment. That is the kind of trust and true surrender which is needed. That is the second ticket for the journey.

While Surrender is based on emotional context, the final ticket CONTEMPLATION is more of the intellectual context. Contemplation is faithful analysis of what is presented into a more lofty and uplifting insight. A question may rise in the mind.... I say all prayers and mantras without much understanding but with utmost faith and commitment; Is that not enough! Certainly, it is just fine. We do talk to the young babies in some sort of gibberish knowing full well, these may not mean anything literally, but it is good enough to communicate and to set-up the bond with the child. But here we are talking about our personal journey as grownups..... as the vacillating mind, our intellect too thrives on critical analysis...... without contemplation, it does not rest.

Ok, how do we get these tickets?

The currency of exchange for these tickets is our mind. Subjugated mind is the price we pay for securing these tickets. Each one of us are individually responsible for the first two tickets - CONCENTRATION and SURRENDER as these are initiated within! No Guru can give you that! This is something we acquire through the Prayer.

However Contemplation can be triggered externally. Careful reading of the text and active listening of those who impart different perspective of the text etc are good enough triggers for contemplation. In fact, many of our slokams and mantras are full of intriguing texts and riddles that may look meaningless or conflicting for the ordinary perusal, but on deep contemplation reveal something more profound. Contemplation is to seek tatvartha....

There is a saying in Tamil that when you see the dog, you cannot find the stone; when you see the stone, you cannot find the dog. Ordinarily, it may imply that there was a stray dog and you wanted to rid of it but you could not find a stone to throw at; when you did find a stone, the dog disappeared. OK, it makes sense, rather a very ordinary and uninspiring one. Such a literal meaning is called ‘samanya artha’. The other view could be that there was a sculpture of a dog; to an artist there is a dog not a stone, but for a mason, it might be the attributes of the stone that matter. Such an inference may be what is intended and thus known as ‘lakshya artha’. A lofty spiritual meaning could be that appearance is a function of perception and all things may be viewed differently according to different frame of mind. Such interpretations with the purpose to impart higher knowledge is called ‘tatvartha’. Only contemplation can lead to such lofty inferences.

śrī lalitā sahasranāma stotram (the stotram) which we recited today, is a treasure house of triggers for contemplation. The very name ‘Lalita’ means one who is playful? What is the play? How can the creation, sustenance and dissolution of universe, which are the acts of Lalita, can be deemed as play? Why there are thousand names to Lalita? Then we find that She is ‘Nama Vivarjita’ meaning without names. How confusing! We did discuss last time the name ‘vidya-avidya svarupini’. In the last Bhajan at Kenton we found a rigger in the verse ‘Murtamurta nithyatripta munimanasa hamsika’. Murta and Amurta – form and formless, a seemingly opposite terms!

There are many such interesting and mystical names to contemplate and discuss.

We have not much time today but will briefly look at the colours of Lalita as the subject of contemplation.

śrī lalitā sahasranāma stotram (the stotram) portrays the power of God as the Lalitāmbikā (Devi) and depicts as the quintessence of spiritual sublimity and power with enchanting beuaty. In particular, the stotram describes Devi’s complexion in various colours such as red, rose, coral-like, yellow, black and white; She is not only of different colours but She is verily all the manifestations of colours. These are indicated at various places in the stotram.

With the prelude starting as ‘sindūrāruṇa vigrahāṁ’ - Devi is described as of red complexion, rising from the fire of super consciousness – ‘cidagni-kuṇḍa-sambhūtā ‘ Red is normally attributed to power or Sakthi; Hindus celebrate Sakthi as of red colour and wear the mark of red vermilion on the forehead – ‘baindavāsanā ’ – to adore one of the abodes of inner Shakti as indicated in the stotram. Her complexion is blood-red raktavarṇā ’ and in fact, She is verily the life-giving blood ’ rudhirasaṁsthitā’.

Devi also assumes the colour of the flower, offered during the prayers ‘ japāpuṣpa-nibhākṛtiḥ‘, suggesting that She is of rose complexion and is fond of the flowery mind of the worshipper - ‘ caitanya-kusumapriyā’. She appears in the colour of coral ‘ vidrumābhā’ and also as the light of thousand rising-Suns ‘udyadbhānu-sahasrābhā’ dazzling in bright mix of red and gold colours. Devi also illumines as the moon – ‘rākendu vadanā ‘, in the sobering colour of silver and white.

By describing Devi as ‘śukla-varnā’. By addressing Devi as ‘viṣṇumāyā’, ‘viṣṇurūpiṇī and ’kalikalmaṣa-nāśinī’, She is also seen in black complexion. In fact, She appears in all the colours - ‘sarva-varnā’ ; by being at the centre of the ‘indra-dhanuḥprabhā ’ or the rainbow, She is the very essence of all colours.

What do we infer from these varied descriptions? What spiritual truth these descriptions convey? The great guru, Maha Pervia of Kanchi, in one of His lectures on Saint Manicka Vasakar took upon the subject of colours to explain an incident in Manicka Vasakar’s life. With the greatest reverence and absolute surrender to Maha Periva, the essence His thoughts and words of wisdom are recalled here for guiding our quest of understanding the philosophical purport - ‘tatvartha’ - of Lalitā ’s colours.

Once when Saint Manicka Vasakar was asked to show the presence of God, the great seer simply showed the ‘vibuthi’ , the sacred white ash, being the symbol of one that is exalted and remain eternally changeless – as the evidence of God. What do we understand from this?

Maha Periva, in His usual impeccable simplicity, had explained the sacredness of ‘vibuthi’ and the intrinsic rationale of its symbolism as the mark of God.

All things colourful, be it yellow, green, blue, red or of other, when consumed by the fire, turn to black only. This does not imply that the fire has somehow repainted the original colours of things with an overcoat of black. On the contrary, by burning, the overlay of varied colours were simply removed as unreal and the natural blackness revealed.

All things are inherently black in nature. Varied colours only represent different manifestations of the underlying material of the universe which is black. It is said ‘sarvam viṣṇumayam jagad’ or ‘krsnam vande jagadkuram’ - all worlds are nothing but Vishnu or all worlds are modifications of Krishna. In the Hindu epics, the complexion of Vishnu and Krishna are deemed as black. Only from the black all words raise and retire. Perhaps the vigorous and vicious scientific pursuits for the discovery of the ‘black hole’, be in the cosmic-plane or the quantum space , is no different to the search for the underlying fundamental cause of the universe.

Well, When the burnt-out black residue is burnt repeatedly to be completely consumed by fire, what remains then? There is just white ash, something that cannot be further burnt. Everything that was burnt down completely would ultimately reach this exalted state of whiteness. The initial inference that the blackness is the ultimate cause is also now modified to suggest that the whiteness is the absolute state of everything. Whiteness is the truth.

In Tamil, the ash is called ‘Neeru’, meaning something which is completely withered or attained an unbreakable state. The word ‘Thiruneeru’ in Tamil means sacred white ash. That is why, as if wearing the truth, the learned Hindus wear sacred ash on their bodies to remind themselves and others of the greatest and the only truth. As we can use the gross-fire to burn-down the colourful variations to the uniform residue as white ash, it is said that through the fire of wisdom, our varied ignorance about the worlds is burnt to reveal the one, absolute truth, as the glorious whiteness of Sivam. The Vedic proclamation of ‘śivamaym’ only indicates such oneness. In ‘śivamaym’ there is no need for further qualifiers such as ‘sarvam’ (all), or ‘jagad’ (worlds), because when there is oneness, none other is to be indicated – nor any world.

The same truth is inferred when Devi is portrayed in all colours and also as the absolute ‘śivā’. Through different colours of her manifestations, different worlds, beings and things therein are indicated. By showing Her as the red-flame of fire, Devi is depicted in the macrocosm as the cosmic power of creation, sustenance and destruction and also in the microcosm as the supreme radiance of intelligence – ‘cidagni-kuṇḍa-sambhūtā ‘. In the colour of black, Devi is the Vishnu and Kali, the fundamental and unifying force and particle of nature. In Her shimmering whiteness, She is verily the Sivam, the all abiding essence and the seed of universe.

In everything, in all colours and forms, let us see the divinity if Mother Lalitā .

We must all continue to perform our prayers and pujas – to prepare ourselves well;

More importantly, let us also secure the tickets and initiate the voluntary and the most important journey. That is what the purpose of life as we would soon discover.