Sentiments before Dawn (Part 4): Praise in Self Abandon
Humble adoration is the mood cultured by the initial activities of worship. In bowing several times upon entering the temple room and then when singing praises of the guru, while observing the morning ceremony (mangal arati), this mood is cultured. As the guru has imparted the knowledge by which a person can conceptualise what God is and who we are in relation to God, as well as what we do in such a relationship; he or she is given first respect. However, that respect and meditation is not separate from the worship of God, it is a simultaneous activity and of no less importance.
On the altar the priest (pujari) offers incense, lamps, flowers and fans, to the deities of God. The male deities are expansions of the form of God and the female are his ever expanding potency or power (sakti). Thus, the primordial male and female natures are recognised and adored as they exist together within divinity. And it is the feminine nature that gradually imbues the awesomeness of the adoration with the intimacy and softness of loving devotion (bhakti). As the priest raises the paraphernalia of worship, which is a grand sight, they along with those in attendance, encourage their respect, affection or love to be expressed or mediated in these symbolised forms. In essence the ritual is the expression of the sentiments a person feels toward God. In the Vaisnava devotional tradition this aspect is greatly encouraged, that a person should feel deep loving intimacy with God.
Following on from the morning song, the prayers honour Sri Chaitanya—the avatar, and his intimate followers, who are great beacons of devotionalism and profoundly benevolent. An appeal is made for their grace, and it is one that the devotee knows will never be denied. It is only now that the worship turns with full attention to the praise of God with His names Hare, Krishna and Rama, being sung. Until this point it has been a preparation and cultivation of consciousness and emotion, and from here on one stands with arms raised before God, not simply in respect or adoration, but rather complete loving surrender (prapanna).
The meditation is guided and expressed by these principal names (Hare, Krishna and Rama), which are considered to be God incarnate in sound. The name ‘Hare’ invokes our sense of God’s great benevolence, in that he relieves us of suffering in its variant forms. Then ‘Krishna’ infers the source and embodiment of all beauty and charm, so profound and sweet, that it draws us near as if by magnetic force. Finally ‘Rama’ is said to mean the origin of all happiness and from whose form it flows. In this mantra meditation, where the three names are continually sung, thoughts of God’s kindness, beauty and blissfulness; perhaps in a word his sweetness, may predominate the devotees heart. However, this just sets the tone of worship, but as individual and unique every soul is, their prayers and praise will be uniquely personalised.
The main thing is not to allow the ceremony and song to be reduced to a routine, and performed daily out of guilt or fear. The detailing and objectives of the ceremonious performance are pragmatic and for heightened experiences of loving intimacy, a soul or heart to heart relationship with what may normally be understood to be an imperceptible God. Giving in to the emotions and self abandon encouraged by the ritual is what allows us to have our own personal and tangible experience of what has until now been unknown to us. This small blind step is what has come to be known as faith (sraddha), and in practicing it the results confirm its efficacy.
As the names are sung the chorus reaches a crescendo, where bodily expression may take the form of dance, clapping of waving the arms above the head. The blowing of the conch shell marks the end of the ceremony and again the devotees bow down and respond with affirmation to further praises of the guru and all predecessor gurus, holy places and forms of God. In this the main part of the pre-dawn morning worship is concluded.
Meditation: On entering your temple, I bow before my guru and all that they represent. I appreciate all they have taught me, by their grace I see you and worship you. May my heart rise in love of you and express itself relishing your names. I relinquish my separateness and give in to your all pervading will.