Applied Theological Studies
At Kali Mandir
Dear Swamiji, Kamalakanta, Lopa and all those behind the scenes for this project of Ramakrishna Seminary,
Thank you so much for doing this! Last nights talk was great! It was a bit hard for me to stay awake because it was 10:30 in the evening when it started here in the Detroit area but I made it through until 1am! Swamiji, I could listen to you speak all day and night. I love when you go off on tangents and I mean that with great respect. I love to explore all the nooks and crannies of the prayers, the deep hidden meanings, pronunciation and the stories behind why certain things are done. I truly wish I could spend a year or perhaps a few weeks even with all of you and just drink in all in. I feel like I have an unlimited appetite for puja, prayers, Sanskrit and mostly for my desire to really know God and experience the bliss that so many others have realized. I also have a desire to know things intellectually and this is one of the reasons that I could listen over and over again and sit with you all and just listen and absorb the stories and soak up all that you are willing to share.
I am greatly looking forward to another session this evening and feel very blessed to be a part of the Seminary and the future courses. I am offering what I can now by making a recurring monthly donation as well. Things are quite difficult for us here in Detroit. Our Church of Yoga here that Durga Devi and I operate may likely go away and we have many worries about how the future will unfold. However, right now as we are all in isolation, we are taking the time to do deeper sadhana and really dive deep. This comes at the perfect time really and we both feel blessed that we have the opportunity. And it is a bright spot in my daily sadhana.
I do hope that before too long, Durga Devi and I will be able to come to see you all in person and I will finally be able to see your Holy Shrine with these two eyes!
BTW, the video of Usha Ma's visit to Dakshinaswar Temple was amazing! Thank you so much for all of your offerings.
Jai Ma! Jai Mahadev!
David Shiva Das
Thank you Shiva Das for you your kind and encouraging words. We are excited about this program and so happy that you are here at the from the beginning. I am praying that the world situation and your personal health improves and that Durga Devi and your good self can visit Kali Mandir soon. I was wonderful meeting Durga Devi in person. "See" you tonight!
Thank you to all of those involved in the Ramakrishna Seminary. I've come to Kali Mandir and felt a strong connection to Ma since my mom brought me as a baby. Now that I live on the east coast, I have really missed Kali Mandir. This virtual seminar, although a bit past my normal bedtime, was the absolute highlight of my week. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with Kali Mandir virtually.
One thing Swami-ji said yesterday stuck with me: In our daily lives, we are supposed to hold God with one hand and work with the other hand. While we worship, however, we hold God with both hands. While we focused on "holding God with both hands" in the seminar, I've been searching for the right way to "hold God with one hand and work with the other."
My question is: How does one best live a modern life while showing devotion to Ma Kali?
I know this question might require a lengthier answer, and would be happy to instead be pointed to any existing guidance (virtually or otherwise) on how to please Ma in our daily lives (outside of puja worship).
I am sure Swamiji will have an excellent answer. I do love offering puja, I have had very good teachers and it is my way. However, I think the best way is to serve Her by your character and integrity of how we live our lives. If we remember her Holy Spirit in every moment or when we remember, and we can see God in everyone and anyone and serve Her in that way. We remember often that we are always at the feet of the Lord, we are always in temple and church.
I think Lopamudra made this excellent and wise point yesterday that God is not in just the temples, churches and in India there is a temple in every home. We can perhaps extend that thought to understand that She is also in the temple of our hearts. Are we keeping THAT temple clean and pure for Her?
very humbly offered to you, realizing that I know nothing!
I am so glad you joined us from so far (time zone wise) away.
This saying of Sri Ramakrishna, to "hold on to God with one hand and do your work with the other, and when your work is over, hold on to God with both hands" is to me one of the most helpful teaching I have heard. Sri M., recorded these words after hearing them from Sri Ramakrishna, wrote in the margins of his original diary next to this entry: “Problem of life, solved!” I think he meant “the problem of modern life, solved.” But it is still hard to implement. Maybe not hard, but still not that easy. To remember Mā at all times, even when engaged in our everyday activities and responsibilities, takes some practice. St. Theresa of Avila wrote that if you burn incense in your room in the morning and in the evening, then your room will smell like incense all day and all night. For me daily sadhana, morning and evening, has the result of God remembrance the rest of the day. The term “meditation” refers to a high mental state. So we often prefer to describe our sadhana as “Sitting with Mā”. We sit with Mā every day, chanting Her name, reciting prayers, doing simple pujas, reading sacred teachings, expressing our hearts to Her. This is “burning incense” in our room. From the habit of daily sadhana, the fragrance of God remembrance fill our day and night.
Also, repeating a mantra can really help. At the time of mediation (sitting), we practice mentally repeating the mantra with our full attention. When any other thought arises, we gently bring our attention again to the mantra. But the mantra can also be remembered at all other times: while at work, waiting in line, while cooking, walking, driving, etc. When we notice that we have forgotten the mantra, then simply resume the mental repetition or remembrance again with no struggle, strain or judgment. Sometimes hours pass without thinking of Her, but sometimes not a minute passes without Her in our minds. Mantra has been a most helpful sadhana for me. There are many good books about mantra meditation, but I would suggest "The Mantra Handbook" by Ekanath Easwaran. It is a great introduction and gives practical methods of remembering the mantra throughout the day.
I would also like to again send much gratitude to everyone associated with Ramakrishna Seminary. The session last evening was another amazing session! Swamiji's talk was great as always. I only wish I had been right there with you all.
Thank you to Kamalakanta and Lopamudra.....I could also listen to both of you speak all day and all night. All of you have so much collective knowledge, understanding and experiences to share and I think we are all very hungry for this now! We want to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and we want to feel devotion. We want to cry at the feet of Ma for her to reveal herself to us within our hearts.
I also wanted to acknowledge Usha Ma. The Kali Mandir and Ramakrishna Temple is all your own fault. haha. I mean that it the best way. When I watched to short movie from all of the film that you took when you were in India so many short years ago, I thought.....wow, it is because of all of this that there is a Kali Mandir today! In that film, I witnessed the birth of the flames of devotion emanating from Laguna Beach and reaching to the far corners of the world, including right here in Royal Oak, Michigan.
I feel the auspiciousness of my chance meeting with Kamalakanta and Lopamudra several years ago which led me to discover Kali Mandir. For this I feel truly blessed. The two sessions on Kali Puja were awesome and now I feel like going back to rewatch the satsang talks of Kali worship. I am so grateful that those have been preserved.
Thank you so much from sincere devotees of Kali Ma, Durga Ma and Mahadev! Our hearts are full of joy and optimism today! Jai Ma!!!
Durga Devi and I will anxiously await the all clear and when we do, we will rush to California to be in your company and in the Shrine and presence of Ma herself!
Jai Ma Swamiji! Thank you for the wonderful and informative class. I've been doing puja from the Simple Kali Puja book for about a year now and it's wonderful to have a great resource to refine my practice and interact with other devotees.
I have a few questions; I apologize if some where answered in the seminar and I missed them!
I have two murtis of Ma- one is Her feet that I procured through the Kali Mandir website, and one is a murti of Ma standing on Shiva that I bought at my work. Standing Ma does not match the dhyan mantra for Dakshina Kali- her right side holds a sword and trishul and her left side holds a severed head and a bowl. Her right foot is forward so I don't think she's Smashan/Vama Kali, and I read on a source online that this particular form is the four-armed Maha-Kali, although the source may or may not be reliable. Would you recommend adjusting the puja in any way?
I also had a question about music during puja. Sometimes I've seen people playing kirtan/bhajan during puja, and also sometimes just playing the drone of the tanpura. Is one preferable? Is it okay to mix up the background music, or is consistency more important?
My last question is about offerings. I'm aware that it's traditional usually to cover the altar or leave the room while the deity eats Their food. In the demonstration video, Kamalakanta just chants and continues with the puja; I'm assuming this is fine also. Also I wanted to ask how much japa is recommended, if there is such a recommendation, while Ma is eating Her food.
Lastly I wanted to thank all of the sadhus at Kali Mandir for their beautiful ministry. I first encountered puja, Kali, and Ramakrishna at a class that Kamalakanta was giving at a yoga festival in northern Michigan, and in the years since I've been a frequent satsang podcast listener and facebook live viewer. Kali Mandir has had a profound impact on my relationship with God and my spiritual life and I am more grateful than words can say. I hope Ma gives me the grace to be able to come and visit someday!
Thank you for your great questions.
The image that you have of Mā is, as you found online, often called "Mahā-Kālī. We also have a beautiful Mā in this pose at Kali Mandir. I have searched for Her dhyāna mantra, which describes this form, in the scriptures. So far I have not found it. A scholar in Tantra told me that this form may not be mentioned in the scriptures but has been worshiped for many years in the folk traditions. She is wonderful, because She is both fierce (every hand has weapons) and sweet, at the same time. When worshiping this form of Mā I still use the dhyāna mantra for Dakśina Kālī and so does my scholar friend mentioned above. I
Regarding listening to music or a tambura drone, it is entirely up to you. Here at Kali Mandir we either have a drone playing or nothing at all. But in my room, I often play recordings of Vedic mantras, kirtans, or meditative ragas during puja. Do whatever helps you focus your attention and awaken devotional feelings.
About covering the food offering: You may have noticed that we put up a cloth like a curtain, in front of the altar when Mā is eating at the temple. This is especially true when offering cooked food such as rice. The devotees do not see the food until after Mā has eaten. For the simple offering of sweets, nuts, fruits, mentioned in the Simple Kali Puja, this doesn't need to be done. In the video of Kamalakanta performing the puja, he simply closed his eyes and chanted japa while Mā ate. This is sufficient. We usually mentally chant the mantra 108X. But a smaller number such as 54 or 10 is also fine.
I have a question about making offerings to other deities and saints in puja. On my altar, I have a small statue of Hanuman. I also have small pictures of Padre Pio, Saint Andre and St. Solanus Casey. I make offerings to them during puja half in English and half in Sanskrit. (For Hanuman I use the Om Hum Hanumate namah mantra) I also make an offering to Papa Ramdas, Jesus and to all the holy saints and sages of all traditions. Is there a way to do this in Sanskrit? Is there a general mantra for all saints, sage, and holy ones as there is for all the gods and goddesses?
Also, if I want to single out a particular saint is there a way to do that? For instance for Papa Ramdas, Om Sri Papa Ramdasaya namah or for Saint Andre, Om Sri Andreyaya namah? I know I am winging this with a very limited understand of Sanskrit. Any help or suggestions would be much appreciated.
Dearest Yogesh (Bryan),
For Hanuman you can use "om śrī hanumate namah". Several mantras have been developed in the Hindu community for Jesus. The one we use is "om śrī īśāya namah". There are some who believe that Jesus went to India and was known there as Īśa Nath. As Īśa means "Lord", I think this is a nice mantra. For Papa Ramdas I would Sanskritize it as "om śrīmat svami rāma-dāsāya namah". For all the saints: "om sarva-santebhyo namah".
@Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati Thank you! That is very helpful.
Thanks for putting the presentation and materials together. Really enjoyed it!
Now, my questions relate to the 3 pitches in the mantras.
Do we have a version of the mantras with the pitches indicated? Sometimes in transliterated text, they show this using capitals and bold. non capitalised = root note, capitalised = higher note (semi-tone above root note), bold = lower note (whole tone below root note). For example, Satyananda people have this for their 32 names of Durga - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrGLnrCjN8A
If not, then should we just follow the audio Swamiji has recorded? Is it a good indication of the "correct" pitches?
Bonus question - Is the same thing indicated in the Devanagari script for these or other mantras? If so, how do you read it?
For most (all except one) of the mantras in the Simple Kali Puja book, the intonation is not fixed. Kamalakanta described the three primary tones that have come down to us in Vedic mantras and these have influenced ritual recitation, even for non-Vedic mantras. Vedic mantras have specific tones or svaras and their intonation is considered as important as their pronunciation. The opening Ganesha mantra in the book is a Vedic mantra and thus has a specific intonation that has come down to us. (This mantra appears in more than one place in the Vedic corpus, and thus there is more than one correct intonation for it.) The other mantras in the puja book come from the puranas and tantras. Generally such mantras do not have specific intonations. But the three primary tones are common in their recitation.
The use of capitalization and bold in the example you provided is not universal. I have not seen it before. I imagine it was developed as a teaching scheme to guide students. More common is the use of the svara marks: a vertical line (similar to an apostrophe) above a syllable indicating the upper tone; a horizontal line (underline) under a syllable, indicating the lower tone; and syllables without any such marking being the central tone. There is also double vertical lines (similar to a quotation mark) indicating a still fourth higher tone that occurs in Vedic recitation. I believe that these svara marks are a modern innovation. If you have ever seen video of young brahmin students learning Vedic recitation, you may have noticed that they are often moving their fist up and down and left to right as they chant. This is the traditional kinesthetic way that the svaras are learned.
@Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati Fantastic. Thank you for the explanation. I have been wondering about this for quite a while.
@Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati Okay, one last question before I start to annoy you! So even in the non-Vedic mantras in the puja, I can still hear that you use 3 pitches. How did you come to decide upon where to use them?
I have a question about the meter when saying mantras. This (the area for answering questions) is the only place I could find to write a question. Any way. . .
When Kamalakanta chanted the puja mantras that all had the same 4 groups of 8 beats, I noticed that he counted each syllable as one beat. When I learned a little Sanskrit I learned that the long vowels were supposed to take two beats and short vowels one beat — that long vowels were supposed to take twice as long to say. I was told that no syllables were ever accented, just the long sound drawn out longer and the aspirated consonants seem accented to us with the aspiration. All of that was repeated by several different teachers. I remember clearly, when with Baba Haridas, being told that the power/meaning in Sanskrit words only comes if they are said correctly with the right meter — extending the long vowels. But all those mantras in the Kali puja were in groups of 8 counts only if you counted each syllable the same whether with long or short vowels. That makes it seem that all that I learned before was wrong. Can you give more explanation please?
@John Zutic Thank you for the reply, John. My take on it is that some Sanskrit is written with the meter based on our Western concept of syllables and some is written taking the mora, or length of each syllable, into account. I looked up mora, from your Wikipedia link, and found more info, which made it clear to me that I am in over my head. Do all conjoined consonants render the otherwise normally light syllable heavy? -- or only certain ones?
In case others are interested:
In India, the mora was an acknowledged phenomenon well over two millennia ago in ancient Indian linguistics schools studying the dominant scholarly and religious lingua franca of Sanskrit. The mora was first expressed in India as the mātrā.
For example, the short vowel "a" (pronounced like a schwa) is assigned a value of one mātrā, the long vowel "ā" is assigned a value of two mātrās, and the compound vowel (diphthong) "ai" (which has either two simple short vowels, "a"+"i", or one long and one short vowel, "ā"+"i") is assigned a value of two mātrās.. In addition, there is plutham (trimoraic) and di:rgha plutham (long plutham = quadrimoraic).
Sanskrit prosody and metrics have a deep history of taking into account moraic weight, as it were, rather than straight syllables, divided into "laghu" (लघु, "light") and "dīrgha" / "guru" (दीर्घ / गुरु, "heavy") feet based on how many morae can be isolated in each word.
Thus, for example, the word kartŗ, meaning "agent" or "doer", does not contain simply two syllabic units, but contains rather, in order, a "dīrgha" / "guru "/ "heavy" foot and a "laghu" / "light" foot. The reason is that the conjoined consonants 'rt' render the normally light 'ka' syllable heavy.
I remembered more last night and turns out what I wrote was very incorrect anyway. :)
Qualitative verse - this is based on stress of the syllable and not length (weight). This is the one that is common in Romance languages like English, e.g. Shakespeare and iambic pentameter.
Quantitative verse - this is not based on stress but on the weight (length) of the syllable. This is common in the older Indo-European languages, e.g. Sanskrit, Greek, etc.
Now, Sanskrit verse generally comes in three forms:
1. Syllabic (akṣaravṛtta) metres depend on the number of syllables in a verse, with relative freedom in the distribution of light and heavy syllables. This style is derived from older Vedic forms. An example is the Anuṣṭubh metre.
2. Syllabo-quantitative (varṇavṛtta) metres depend on syllable count, but the light-heavy (weight) patterns are fixed
3. Quantitative (mātrāvṛtta) metres depend on duration, where each line has a fixed number of morae. The amount of syllables can vary (e.g. In a 4-mora foot there can be two long syllables, four short syllables, or one long and two short in any order). These meters are less common.
As for your question, I don't know, but it probably makes sense that they do if they are going to extend the previous syllable, or maybe it depends on the total value of the group including the consonant (if consonants have values).
Anyway, that's enough for now as I'm probably doing more harm than good by getting into this when clearly I don't understand it! :)