The good old Rishi-Munis were faced with the task of the incorporation of healthy habits and a sattvik lifestyle into the lives of common folk. Though everyone was spiritual in the times of Satyuga, the Rishis had the foresight that in times to come, especially during Kalyuga, almost no one would be spiritual enough. If good / healthy habits were not given down the ages as a traditional package which was easy to remember and follow, they would die out and the entirety of future generations would succumb to consumption, doing no justice at all to their much earned Yonis as human beings.
As a solution to this task, the Rishis packaged healthy habits and a sattvik lifestyle into customs and minor rituals, which they coupled to festivals and changes of season, mostly as per the lunar calendar. A prime example are the Navratras, the festive 9 days which occur twice a year at the change of the seasons from warm to cool (October) and cool to warm (March-April). The required lifestyle as per the norms laid down during Navratras to maintain health and not fall sick is nothing but a page out of hoary Ayurveda and the (Panchakarma) regimen followed by Ayurveda at the junction of the seasons to expel excess Doshas from the body, maintaining a balance of Doshas in the body and thus health.
In today’s India, Navratras have become a splurge-season for many. It has become a superstition to commence any task or make any purchase during the Navratras. The youth doesn’t really know much about the fasting and rest to one’s bodily system as advised by the Rishis during the Navratras. On the contrary, the youth looks forward to the late night cultural festivities organized on each of the nine nights in many Indian states. Not switching the body on and off with the Sun (approximately) leads to ill-health. Most people today who hold partially to the norms laid down for the Navratras follow these lightly, without knowing their full significance, a state of affairs envisioned by the Rishis, for which purpose this custom was designed in the first place, i.e. to keep virtue alive despite the level of ignorance in Kalyuga. Among those who actually “slow down” and give their body rest so as to allow the body to get accustomed to the change of weather, there is a high percentage of people who demarcate for themselves one meal in the day, and then go all out during this meal, taking it at night, and then sleeping right away! Ayurvedically speaking, not healthy at all. And then, when the Navratras are over, some of these folk splurge at all meals for a while, putting on a few extra kilos overall in the bargain. The “Pointe” is the feeling of being blessed by the Gods for having “held” the Navratras with partial fasts and regimens like not shaving and not eating meat (!!!) or consuming alcohol, any positive effects of which are more than drained by the binges afterwards. There also exists fear that transgression during the Navratras would yield extra sin and punishment, which is more of a reformer than the incentive of following virtue and reaping rewards in solid health. This develops further into the false belief that outside the Navratras, transgression is allowed, yielding lesser sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. Transgression is paid for by ill-health, Navratras or no Navratras.
Similar to the Navratras is the all-year round custom which is prevalent in many parts of North India, of fasting on Tuesdays, partially if not fully, and laying off non-vegetarian food and alcohol on the part of those who indulge. I have seen many men holding this Tuesday fast and then binging on non-vegetarian food and alcohol during the rest of the week. [At the same time I must add that many pious women follow this custom too, and their customary visit to the temple brings upon them a certain holiness and a shine on the forehead, since these women are devotees of Lord Hanuman, one of the few true celibates in the history of mankind.]
Another laid down custom by the Rishis is the period of the “Shradhas”, or the fifteen days during which one pays homage to one’s ancestors. Here, all fifteen Tithis of a lunar Paksha are demarcated for homage to one’s ancestors, depending upon the Tithi on which the ancestor passed away, be it Shukla or Krishna Paksha. The power of the penance performed during Shradha by the descendants reaches out to the ancestors’ spirits, and those spirits which are refusing to move on are instilled with positive vibrations and urged to move on to other pastures and to forsake attachment to their families still in the body. In the real-life scenario, day to day transactions almost come to a standstill, with the superstition prevailing, that any new activity begun / performed or any big purchase made during Shradha is inauspicious. Of course the Rishis were fully aware that detachment between spirit and substance is the key to allow the spirit to move away, and that an enlightened mind would not require the crutch of the Shradhas to help a deceased relative move on. At the same time, the Rishis rightly felt that in Kalyuga, attachment levels would be high, causing spirits to linger on. Thus the Shradhas were devised, during which the Rishis themselves undergo penance that empowers the rituals performed by the common individual to bring rest to the souls of deceased ancestors. Unfortunately, the common individual passes the Shradhas with the fear that something inauspicious or uncalled for might happen at any step.
In the course of one’s Sadhana, one develops the power to rise above superstition. The mind breaks the shackles of fear and evolves more and more. Light starts emerging from within, and one’s aura starts expanding, purifying and healing everything and everyone within its diameter. The crutch of customs and rituals is not required anymore, with body and mind purification happening 24 / 7. Any spirit in the vicinity is spiritualized and receives energy to move on automatically, Shradhas or no Shradhas. Day to day actions gain in auspiciousness due to the bubbling / overflowing spiritual energy, Navratras or no Navratras. Unwanted guests stay away, so as not to jeopardize the next session of meditation. During the course of meditation, one exchanges energy with Cosmic Consciousness, recharging one’s batteries with the vast reservoirs of spiritual energy abundant in the Cosmos. Hence the need for physical food declines. One even needs less sleep for regeneration, because regeneration during deep meditation is 1.5 times during the first hour and about 6 times during the second hour of meditaion when compared to the regeneration during good sleep. This list is endless…….. . All it takes for the mind to move beyond superstition is the identification of a spiritual routine and the discipline to stick to the routine, day in and day out. The outlined results follow automatically.
In other words, the essence of this article is an appeal to the Grihastha Ashram individual (the “common individual” of the days of yore) to take perhaps an hour off per day, split the hour into two, and to practice the chosen spiritual routine in these two sessions daily (each ranging at least half an hour), morning and evening, day in, day out. Let me not limit the reach of this article to Grihastha Ashram individuals only. Spiritual evolution is the ultimate goal of all humans anyway. Actually, it is one’s birthright.