Sunday, March 18, 2012
Ganesh: Guardian of the Temple
Om Gam Ganapataye Namah
This is the chant to Ganesh, the mythical figure in Hindu iconography who represents the remover of obstacles, the gatekeeper between the earthly world and the spiritual world.
Here is one version of his story.
According the Hindu mythos, Siva and Shakti represent the primordial male and female entities of the universe, the creator and mother of the universe. They are represented by the familiar eastern symbol, the yin and yang. In this symbol, the dark side represents the female aspect of the universe (not necessarily gender), embodiment, cool, dark, and movement. The light side represents the male aspect, energy, spirit, warmth, and awareness.
Early in the history of this myth, Siva was often away from Shakti as he attended to the responsibilities of ruling the universe. As happens with all newlyweds, eventually the honeymoon period seemed to be over between the two of them. Often, Siva would return home from his responsibilities of creating the universe and without much sensitivity, he felt entitled to Shakti's bed chamber. Shiva only craved the physical and Shakti craved the spirit.
Once again when Siva left, Shakti mourned the lack of intimacy that they once shared. So, from her laughter, Shakti created a son and named him Ganesh. As the son of embodied movement, Ganesh was an amazing physical creature. In addition to giving Shakti companionship and love, Shakti gave Ganesh the charge of guarding the gates to her bedroom; under no circumstances was he to allow anyone to pass.
As you may imagine, when Siva returned home, as per his habit, he marched straight toward Shakti's bed chamber and was met abruptly by this new creature, Ganesh. "None shall pass," said Ganesh (I'm thinking of Monty Python, here). Annoyed, Siva sent some of the members of his posse to go and take care of this little boy blocking the way. As the son of Shakti, Ganesh proved to be a powerful creature and probably looked like the young Vin Diesel of Hindu Gods as he cleaned house with Siva's brute force. As Ganesh was more than holding his own against his attackers, Siva started to get a little nervous. He thought, "This won't look good if this little kid takes care of my posse. Even worse if he then schools me," Siva thought. So while Ganesh wasn't looking Siva threw his trident and beheaded Ganesh.
Hearing all the commotion, Shakti came out of her room and saw her now dead son on the floor. She threw the stink-eye at Siva as if to say, "Fix this. NOW." Siva, seeing that he was in hot water, told his right hand man to go and find him a head. Any head. He returned with a head-an elephant head. Siva said, "This will have to do." And with that, brought Ganesh back to life. This story taught Siva that even he needs to earn entrance into the gates of the sacred chamber, into the temple.
The symbol of Ganesh helps to remind us of several aspects of our yoga practice as well as our practice of daily living. Many of the depictions of Ganesh show him sitting with one of his legs in the enlightened pose of lotus while his other foot rests comfortably on the ground. This teaches that while we are seeking spiritual progression, we must also keep our contact with the physical world. Even more than that, it shows that the path to spiritual expression is often through the magic and joy of the physical form. Our yoga practice is the perfect example: we move our bodies as a tool which points to the spirit. Every time I see someone roll down the road on their skateboard, I think of that soul experiencing a touch of enlightenment through the bliss of motion through time and space. Whether skating or performing asana, we allow ourselves the indulgence of the underlying form of mind and heart through the physical machinations of the body. Through the body, we give ourselves a tangible connection to spirit.
The gateway to the body is the connection between ground and body: the pelvis and hips. This week, let's entice the sentinel, Ganesh, as we break off the rust of the gates to the temple of heart and mind and open our hips, stretch the legs, external rotators (outside of the buttocks) and the hip flexors (groins). We'll not only learn the steps to enter the gates toward the sacred chamber of heart and mind through the body, but also make the practice sweet and allow the entire journey to be a joy. My intention is to learn a little about the ancient myths of yoga while giving freedom and joy in our hips. We'll float out of class.