Thursday, May 1, 2014


  Hindus find  Omnipresent   Brahman  in Light as well as Darkness    

(Compilation for a discourse by N. R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, USA, April 2014)

A walk in the dark can lead us to wisdom, deliver us from fear and bring us closer to god says Barbara Taylor as   reported by Elizabeth Dias in Time Magazine of April 28, 2014. The author of   “Finding God in the Dark” is a leading theologian in America.   “Strength, purpose and true faith are found in the shadows.  Darkness is often treated as evil, a vast unknown and the ultimate spiritual enemy but it may save us all” says Barbara Taylor.  Most spiritual seekers spend their lives pursuing path of enlightenment. Her thoughts on the other hand were focused on the philosophy if path of Enlightenment can help why not path of Endarkenment? Probably it is a word coined by her and not found in the dictionary.  

Endarkenment is an all-time experience to deal with for Hindus as they try to find God by Light as well Darkness in their worship. Enigmatic Hindu Goddess of Time Kaali is black. She represents the state where time, space and causation have disappeared without any trace and hence she is black. God has created this universe and entered into it as Antryamin or inner controller. God is hiding in the dark in us which needs to be revealed.  Universe becomes a veil, a cloak for the divinity. When that is destroyed, the divinity remains unveiled, so Goddess Kaali is naked and named digambara having vast limitless space itself as her only vesture. As we all know spiritual seekers often retire to loneliness and dark caves, shut themselves up and start meditating closing their eyes. Even in their prayer or Bhajan they close their eyes often. Brahman is not seen even in the brightest of lights with the help of physical eyes by the   ignorant mind, but can be seen by seekers even in the darkest surroundings that is Consciousness-Existence-Bliss and needs no physical eye. Darkness holds many lessons than light and contrary to what many of us have long believed it is sometimes in the bleakest void that God is nearest. We all know the story of Valmiki whose deepest grief and dark moment gave birth to most famous first ever literary holy composition in the world.  Bararbara Taylor is talking about physical darkness and physical eye. Spiritual seekers seek Brahman with Jnaanachakshu (Intellectual Eye) for whom physical light is of no use; darkness is no hindrance to them. If we look at the Hindu temple traditions the deity is kept in the dark chambers in a small chamber with no windows, opening to the audience hall in otherwise a magnificent building of architectural beauty? Hindu devotees in the broad daylight area seek God who is kept in darkness. An English author wrote once looking at Ganesha: “What a magnificent Temple is there for such a bizarre figure kept in pitch dark”. Hindu Temples are thoughtfully planned to lead one to spiritual heights as explained later. The processional deity at the same time is taken in procession exposed to maximum light, pomp and show as is common in South Indian Temple Traditions.

In Hindu concept Vishnu who represents Sattvaguna (brightness), power of existence, is depicted as dark blue skinned in iconic representation; Siva who represent Tamoguna, (darkness) the power of annihilation  is depicted with white complexion in icons. Thus darkness and light complement each other.   Along with Lakshmi, Goddess of Prosperity there was Alakshmi, the Goddess of Barrenness and Misfortune from the Ocean of Milk. Valmiki got his wisdom when his Intellectual Eye opened up while he spent several thousands of years in darkness finding no use for his physical eyes and was completely covered by an anthill.  Valmiki means one who emerged out of dark anthill with wisdom. Our sages turned their thoughts to pervading darkness and came out with spontaneous outburst as is evident from the famous mantra: Asato maa sadgamaya tamaso maajyotirgamaya mrityor maa amritam gamaya—Lead me from unreal to real; from darkness to light and from death to deathlessness. “Turning in to darkness, instead of away from it, is the cure for a lot of what ails me; because I have a deep need to be in control of things, to know where I am going, to be sure of my destination, to get there efficiently, to have all the provisions I need, to do it all without help” says Barbara Taylor. She very much echoes what was working in the minds of our ancient sages who came out with their profound theory as to what life is and what is after in their quest for Truth when they were frightened  with the darkness of death.  Hindus give importance both to light and darkness. They celebrate their New Year both with bitter neem (margosa) fruit buds and sweet jaggery (solidified cane syrup). Can you every think of a life without rest during darkness of night for enjoying active life during daylight?  A Sanskrit couplet says: “Sukham hi dukhaan anubhooya sobhate ghanaandakareshviva deepadarsanam”—One enjoys happiness only after pitch darkness just as enjoying light after knowing to live with darkness. Upanishads promote the idea of living with the darkness, learning from darkness, educate progressively and elevate. 

Barbara Brown Taylor, who ranks among America’s leading theologians is encouraging believers and non-believers not only seek the light but to face the darkness too something twenty first century Americans tend to resist.  Evidently she did not think of many Hindu Americans here who carry their spiritual pursuits wherever they go, in darkness as well as light. “God declared in the beginning ‘let there be Light’. The Holy Bible  therefore concluded light as Holy and condemned darkness to be Hell. A walk in the dark can lead to wisdom, deliver us from fear, and bring us closer to God, believes Taylor. Darkness was often the setting for humanity’s closest encounters with the divine. God appeared to Abraham in the night and promised him descendants more numerous than stars. The Exodus happened at night. God met Moses in the thick darkness atop Mount Sinai to hand down the Ten Commandments.  The Apostle Paul’s conversion happened after he lost his sight. Jesus was born beneath the star and resurrected in the darkness of a cave.

“Most of the world’s major religions have something to say about finding the God in the shadows. Gautama Buddha meditated in the caves of Northern India. Muhammad received Koran in a cave outside Mecca. St. Francis prayed in a tiny grotto near Assisi. Darkness is inviting everyone to know God. to heal us of our weakness and strengthen us for the journey. Thus most of the religions of the world have something helpful to say about finding God in darkness” laments Barbara Taylor.    Lord Krishna was born in pitch dark in the prison and   Lord Narasimha during dark twilight zone. Rama entered Ayodhya in Pitch darkness, revealed to them to enlighten the hearts of millions. Narakasura and Hiranyakasipu were killed in the night. Vishnu rested in perfect tranquility in pitch darkness before he thought about creation. Brahman meditated for several thousand years turning his faces in all directions with closed eyes.  Nara Naryana, Sage Vyasa and others have all meditated in dark caves. Lord Siva is embodiment of Tamasa Guna and darkness. We worship him for his Tamasa Guna which brings hope for new cycle of birth and salvation; otherwise life will be stagnated and condemned for ever. The list is too large to cover here.  

The inner chamber of the temple is called Garbhagriha which literally means “womb chamber”. This chamber resembles a dark cave. Here the deity is located.  Human life starts  in the darkness of the womb. A seed starts sprouting in the darkness of the soil. Jesus started the process of resurrection or reincarnation in the darkness of the tomb.  Garbhagriha does not have windows. Instead it has a wide front door which allows the devotees sitting watch the ritualistic worship focused on the deity. You know why horses are provided eye guards and kept dark to focus on its straight path run.  The Self or God within us is kept dark from us. When we take pains to focus on that our thoughts are diverted to spirituality, elevation and liberation from materialism, ego and selfishness. The revelation that has come to Barbara Taylor is very much in practice in worship and meditation by Hindus from time immemorial. Darkness and Light   being pairs of opposites have their importance and due place in Hindu philosophy. 

The Meru  Mountain Symbolism of Hindu temples has close association with dark chamber or cavern or cave which is mysterious and believed to house a secret as in Jagannath Temple of Puri  or Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu.  In Jagannath a mysterious stuff known as Brahma-padaarth hidden in the icon of Jagannath is transferred to the new icon during Navakalebar so the continuity of original Jagannath as sculpted by Viswakarma continues to this day keeping its sanctity. In Chidambarm a mirror hangs in the sanctum with a garland and no one knows where the Aakasalinga is. This is called Chidamabara Rahasyam. Siva there appears as element Ether or Space in his formless form where darkness prevails. In Melukote in Karnataka ivory crown of the deity (Vairamudi) is transferred to the Lord once a year during annual celebrations by the blindfolded priest in the dark surroundings. This transfer takes place in darkness. It is always stored in the dark.

The darkness of the sanctum chamber is a necessary condition for the transformation of the devotee, in whom a change is affected and a new life attained in the darkness of the shrine. The light waved in front of dark image creates a mystic luminescence and inspires awe and reverence in the devotee. Without darkness this mysticism is not felt. A secret is always associated with darkness. Hindu scriptures often talk about secret administration of a mantra by a Guru.

Easavaasya Upanishad says those who worship the Un-manifest or Manifest   both do so  in darkness:

Anyam  tamah pravisanti ye asmbhootim upaasate |

Tato bhooya iva te tamo ya u sambhhtyaa(ga)mrataah ||

The worshipers fall into blinding darkness who worship the Un-manifest (Prakriti), but those who devote themselves to the Manifest (personal gods) enter into greater darkness. Even during the Vedic period, there were personal gods like Vaayu, Agni, Varuna, just as we have today  the Puraanic Gods like Rama, Krishna, Siva, Devi, Ganesha, etc.

Sambhootim cha vinaasam cha yastad vedobhaya(ga)m saha |

Vinaasena mrityum teertvaa sambhootya amritam-asnute ||

He who worships Primordial matter and the Personal God together overcomes death through the worship of the Personal and obtains immortality through the worship of the Impersonal (Supreme Principal). 

When a devotee entering the temple gets the first vision of sanctum where the icon is kept in darkness with dim light he gets into the state of dream. As he proceeds towards the sanctum and stands in front of the sanctum he sinks into the state of deep sleep. When he looks at the icon, the higher state of tranquility descends upon him. And when he is suffused with the vision of the icon, he gets into the state of tranquility and he no longer needs the help of the icon. His thoughts are one with the Supreme within himself and he turns inwards. That is why Hindu temples differ from other religions in following temple Traditions. Vedanta says man has to go through four states to reach Brahman—Wakeful, Dream, Deep-sleep and the Fourth State of transcendence called Tureeya.  

There is nothing more mysterious than Brahman in Hinduism and nothing else is sought after in pitch darkness.  Trying to understand Brahman with a human mind is like trying to look at the eye itself with which one sees everything. In the Upanishads, Neti-Neti (Not this-not this) is the method by which Brahman is explained. In Hinduism we have two fold conception of God as Saguna Brahman or Isvara endowed with all the good qualities that we can think of, raised to the degree of infinity who can be approached with the concept of Light; we have other Nirguna Brahman, the unqualified Godhead which can  only be described in the negative who can be sought after without the help of physical light  in the    Dark. The following passage from Gita elaborates it:

“He or She shines with the faculties of all the senses, and yet He or She is devoid of senses. He or She is unattached, and yet He or She sustains all things. He or She is without the disposition of nature, and yet He or She enjoys them. He or She is without and within all beings. He or She has no movement, and yet He or She moves. He or She is too subtle to be known. He or She is far away, and yet He or She is near”
Brahman is neither male nor female but everything.
Mayaa tadidam sarvam jagad-avyakta-moortina | mat-sthaani sarva-bhootaani na chaaham teshv-avasthita-h || (9-4)
This entire world is pervaded by the Supreme Spirit, who in truth is un-manifest (Invisible). All the living beings subsist in the Supreme Spirit, but the Supreme Spirit, does not confine to these beings (because it is the highest of all).
[Invisible presence of the Supreme Spirit pervades the entire Universe. All beings have life in it, but it is not in them.] 

Bahir-antascha bhootaanaam acharam charameva cha | Sookshmatvaat-tad- avijneyam doorastham chaantikay cha tat || (13-15)                                        
The Supreme Spirit is within all beings, and also outside. It remains unmoved, and it also moves. It is incomprehensible, because it is extremely subtle. It is far away in the supreme Abode (Parama Dhaama), but indeed, it is nearby residing in one’s inner psyche.

Na tatra sooryobhati na Chandra taarakam nemaa vidyuto bhaanti kutoyamagnih | tameva bhatamanubhaati sarvam tasya bhaasa sarvamidam Vibhaati ||

There the Sun does not shine; neither the moon nor the stars; nor do the flashes of lightning shine. How then can the fire? All these shine after Him only, who is the source for all these shining. [This light eclipses all other lights. This light or darkness whatever it is, it is the cause for all other lights]

Our ultimate goal is to merge with Nirguna Brahman and that happens in Endarkenment and not Enlightenment. Whole creation dissolves into Nirguna Brahman and darkness prevails to start creation and Enlightenment.

1. Time, April 28, 2014, Finding God in the Dark, USA.
2. Ramachandra Rao, S.A., Temple Traditions, Kalpatharu Research Academy, Bengaluru, India.
3. Sharma D.S., A Premier on Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
4. Ed. Viswanathan, Am I a Hindu, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, India.
5. Devadutt Patnaik, Vishnu, Vakil,  Feffer and Simons Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, India
6. Champakalakshmi R., Usha Kris, The Hindu Temple, Roli Books, New d Delhi, India.
7. Ramachandra rao, S.A., Early Indian Thought, Kalpatharu Research Academy, Bengaluru, India.
8. Ramanand Prasad,  Bhagvad Geetaa, American Gita Society, CA, USA.
9. Swami Harshanada, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
10. Swami Chinmayananda, Easaavaasya Upanishad,  CCMT, Mumbai, India.

[This is a prepared lecture compiled from above references and others for a discourse at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville and to benefit those who are not able to attend the same in person. You are free to download and use it for your reading and reference as well as circulate to others to spread the wisdom of Vedas and Hindu values which good act will be appreciated.]