Friday, February 25, 2011

Saraswathi, Later Winter, and Dark Phases of the Moon...

According to Advaita Vedanta (the philosophical vision of the Vedic tradition), the wholeness or fullness we seek is the very being of all that is…including oneself. As Vedic practitioners we seek to realize our whole, full, or contented Self through devotion, contemplation, and service, ultimately seeking to gain a clear vision and understanding of the truth that has always been. This vision of truth is revealed in the Vedic "mahavakyas" or "great statements" such as: “I am Consciousness” and “I am identical with the Whole.” Because Consciousness or Wholeness is recognized, in the Vedic tradition, as the very being of all existence, it is invoked through infinite images, objects, and even concepts. In India there are temples honoring countless deities as well as temples that honor time and space. When I was in India last summer, I joyfully witnessed priests performing an elaborate ritual upon installing a washing machine and dryer. I also discovered Hindus hold a special day to care for their automobiles when no one is supposed to drive! The vision that everything is sacred and part of the Whole is very compelling and inclusive, a vision I hold dear.
A popular female image in the Vedic tradition is Goddess Saraswathi. Some trace her history all the way back to the earliest Vedic times when Vac, or speech, was recognized as a Goddess. Saraswathi has multiple forms and images and is used not only to invoke Wisdom or the Creative aspect of the Whole, but also to invoke Wholeness itself. This again reflects my own general experience of Hinduism where the worship of any God or Goddess is often, for the practitioner, a worship of all the Gods and Goddesses, and thus a way to invoke the Whole. I recall spending Navarathri (a celebration of the divine feminine lasting nine nights) at my teacher’s ashram on the East Coast where the temple deity, Dakshinamurti, a male deity, was dressed as the Goddess for the duration of the celebration!
Hindu Goddesses are often portrayed as “light” or “dark” goddesses reflecting the rhythms of the new and full moons. Although Saraswathi is most often portrayed as a “light” or full moon goddess, She is sometimes portrayed as a dark moon goddess, as revealed in the image above. I find this particular image of Saraswathi very powerful as we enter the waning cycle of the moon and the final stages of “Late Winter” in the Ayurvedic calendar. Mother Maya, the author of Path of Practice, teaches that Late Winter is a time to reformat our minds by burning up our negativity or karma through practices such as japa, journaling, meditation, or contemplative yoga asanas. These practices are also encouraged, especially for women, during the waning cycle of the moon.
Also, according to Ayurveda (the sister science of Yoga), the predominant taste of “late winter” is bitter. But the “bitterness” of “late winter” is not only felt in the bitter dry cold air, but is also felt inside of us, in our bodily humors, and perhaps  even in our thoughts or feelings. So, this can be a good time to neutralize the bitter taste of winter by sweetening, or adding a salty or sour taste to our food, and, by taking some solitude, if possible, to transform any bitterness dwelling within, perhaps into some fiery insights, or into a soothing sweeteness of self care. By aligning ourselves with the rhythms of Mother Nature herself, we transition more easily into the new season and the new moon, refreshed for new beginnings. If you are like me, you are anxiously awaiting warmer weather, but as we wait, we can take this opportunity to transform and lighten up our insides for the upcoming spring days ahead!

Jai Saraswathi!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pranams Saraswathi

On a beautiful spring day almost nine years ago I arrived on Eastern Washington University's campus to teach my first Introduction to Philosophy courses. I remember feeling this strong sense of purpose, that I had a mission to bring Sophia (our Western Saraswathi) back into Philosophy. I had grown very disheartened by academic philosophy over the years, especially in graduate school, where truth and wisdom were mostly reduced to science and logic. Upon giving up my academic career for some time, I became a committed yogini and through my study and practice, I fell upon the path of the Mother, in particular the path of Goddess Saraswathi. As the Vedic goddess of Wisdom and Creativity, Saraswathi became my cosmic inspiration and even my cosmic Mother. Over the years I have been surprised in the ways my colleagues have supported me on this more mystical approach to Philosophy. The last few weeks have been especially meaningful where I was blessed with the opportunity to give a course on Women's Spirituality to a group of amazing inspiring students as well as share some of my path with colleagues on the day of Saraswathi on the Vedic calendar. Finally, I joined with others to host a women spiritual leader, Swami Radhananda, whose speech resonates of the Goddess herself. Swami Radhananda’s guru, Swami Radha often mentioned Saraswathi as the goddess of speech. She encouraged women to recognize the power of speech and to offer their words in service to the divine feminine. In a world where the womanist/feminist voice is still reclaiming its space in academia this remains an important message. So in celebration of the feminine aspect of wisdom becoming more unveiled in the academy, I dedicate this blog to Goddess Saraswathi in all of Her forms, including Wisdom Herself, and to the amazing women teachers and students who continue to encourage and inspire me. Jai Saraswathi!

Swami Radhananda (middle) and Swami Lalitananda (left) and Kathryn