Today (May 9) is especially auspicious in relation to Shri Ganesha, remover of obstacles, patron of learning and the arts (especially writing and reading – He served as scribe for Vyasa’s text, The Mahabharata, including The Bhagavad- Gita).
I am reminded that at least twice in the canon of Mahayana Buddhist scripture, Lord Buddha (Shakyamuni Gautama Buddha) is recounted as initiating at least two of his closest disciples into the practice of meditation, imparting instructions in the use of a traditional ancient Vedic Ganesha mantra. The formative influence of the ancient Vedic-Hindu tradition on the teachings of Lord Buddha and thus on both the early roots and the later emergent development of what became Buddhism is so extensive as to be even now not quite calculable, 2,500 years on.
It’s a little bit like trying to form an understanding of Protestantism without a sufficient knowledge of historical Catholic Christianity, or even more so, perhaps like trying to understand Lord Jesus and Christianity without a sufficient knowledge of historical Judaism. There are reasons why early, medieval, and later traditional Jewish Kabbalist mystics and Hasidic masters have regarded Lord Jesus (Yeshua ben-Miriam or ben-Yosef) as a great accomplished Kabbalist mystical saint and realized spiritual master, an hasidic rebbe and tzaddik. There are similar, almost identical reasons why Bhagavan Buddha Shakya Muni is regarded in Vedic Yoga Tantra and Hinduism as a Vedic maharishi and an Avatar (Embodied Manifestation of Brahman, the field of infinite Wholeness, the unified field of Consciousness, the Ground of Being).
Of course it is to be assumed that as a fully enlightened Vedic rishi and omniscient being, Shakyamuni would have been able to directly cognize, perhaps, the entire “akashic encyclopedia” of mantra science. But as an historical teacher born and raised in a Vedic Hindu culture, who is recorded to have studied with various Hindu Yogis, Gautama the yogi sage (muni) of the Shakya people most likely also received initiatic instruction and training in Vedic mantras, including the Ganesh mantra, together with accompanying sadhana instruction in initiatic meditation practices, which the Buddhist scriptures record Him as having passed on to at least two specifically-named close disciples.
This is a strikingly similar understanding to that which posits that, as a Divine Incarnation (Avatar), Lord Jesus would be assumed to have a full range of internally-cognized divine, “akashic” mantric and other yogic knowledge; while as an historical rabbi within an Essene Kabbalist or other Jewish mystical lineage, he would most likely have received extensive initiatic training. Certain Jewish mystical schools have long utilized much the same methods as preserved within Hindu, Buddhist, and other traditions that utilize ancient Vedic mantra meditation techniques. And then of course there are the legends that Jesus spent time studying initiatic spirituality in India and/or Egypt during the gospels’ “missing years” (between the age of 12 and 30).
Not to mention the testimony of the mystical Persian prophet Mani (216–274 AD) who was born and raised within a sect of Jewish Christian gnostics living in a Hindu- and Buddhist-dominant kingdom just north of modern-day India. Mani’s teachings formed the basis of what came to be known as Manichaeism. According to Mani, Lord Jesus was a later reincarnation or emanation of Lord Buddha, and/or, variously, a manifestation the same one divine Reality that as the formless Holy Spirit had incarnated or manifested in various times and places as Lord Zoroaster, Lord Buddha, Lord Jesus, and as Mani himself.
This is quite similar to certain slightly later Taoist scriptures which teach that the eternal Tao, as the heavenly Lord Lao, successively incarnated or manifested on Earth as the historical Lao-Tzu, Lord Buddha, Lord Jesus and Mani.
Islamic teaching reveres Muhammad as a prophet, not a divine incarnation or emanation, yet at a mystical level, Islamic teachings hold that the divine knowledge aspect of God exists as an eternal light which directly enlightened the mind and being of the Prophet Muhammad as the “perfect man”; thus this eternal radiance of infinite spiritual Wisdom is known in Islam as “the Muhammadan Light.”
Buddhist scriptures mention the monk Ananda as one of the personal disciples to whom Buddha gave initiation and instruction in meditation utilizing a Vedic mantra of Ganesh. Ananda is regarded as Buddha’s closest heart-disciple. Although Ananda had flawlessly memorized everything he had heard his Teacher say during the fifty or more years of Buddha’s teaching career, Ananda had been unable to attain full awakening during Shakya Muni’s lifetime. Following the passing of Lord Buddha, Ananda is said to have received the mantle of the teaching and the “true Dharma eye” of enlightenment from his elder fellow disciple Mahakashyapa. Mahakashyapa, it is said, had earlier awakened and then received the mantle directly from Lord Buddha. This is regarded as the beginning of the particular lineage followed both by Zen Buddhism and the Madhyamika tradition of sage Nagarjuna within Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. In fact, as far as I know, all Buddhist schools regard the disciplic succession from Lord Shakyamuni to Mahakashyapa and thus to Ananda as the historical origin of their teaching lineage.
It is interesting that Buddhist scriptures present Lord Buddha in His own Hindu cultural and historical Indian context functioning as a traditional guru who personally imparts to his closest disciples initiation in ancient Vedic mantras together with related instructions in meditation. Of course, this should not be surprising, given the historical cultural and spiritual context, though it is generally forgotten or overlooked today. But the fact that this important information largely remains buried (whether intentionally, merely by happenstance, or both) should be mildly shocking. Though, again, perhaps hardly surprising. Yet there it is, lying embedded and preserved within the Buddhist sutras.
Lord Ganesha Deva continues to be venerated not only within the directly Vedic-rooted world of Hinduism (in India and now around the Planet), but also within the Buddhist world stretching historically from India across Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, China and Korea, all the way to Japan, through Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc., and north into central Asia and beyond. And now of course the Buddhist world, like its mother, the Hindu world, is also lively all over the Planet.
In the mid-1800s’ English visitors to Japan recorded the presence of over a hundred Buddhist temples dedicated to Ganesha in Tokyo alone.
Previously on this blog site, I’ve mentioned that some scholars see Ganesha, Hotei (Pu Tai) and Santa Claus as three culturally-variant expressions/representations/ conceptualizations of the same one universal being.
Naturally, I love this sort of cross-referential “insight”—however dubious it may also be when looked at crassly from a purely materialist deconstructionist comparative cultural studies perspective. Not everything historical must occur through traceable geo-cultural dispersion; there is such a thing as “independent” spontaneous co-origination! — if you believe that there is anything other than spontaneous co-dependent origination. Hebrew and Chinese do not need to be proven to somehow originate historically/culturally in Vedic Sanskrit to be valid in their own right while at the same time perhaps sharing certain words (as sounds as well as concepts).
Lord Buddha didn’t necessarily have to be drawing culturally upon ancient historical Vedic mantras as names and essential conceptual-features and values of “Ganesh” as part of the teaching heritage he passed on. Maybe the relational name-and-form value of Ganesh-as-mantra and as Ganesh-as-Devata (ie: of Ganesh-mantra as seed-form of Ganesh-&-His-characteristic-values-of-consciousness, and thus as a facet of infinite continuum of consciousness-as-Being, ie Brahman, or Buddha-nature/Buddha-mind) occurred to him as an expedient vehicle for effective meditation only as an independently spontaneous co-origination from within His own enlightened mind. Although virtually every other aspect of early Buddhism (and much of later Buddhism as well!) can be traced to pre-existing concepts and practices already present in Vedic/Hindu-rooted Indian spiritual/religious culture.
Why should it matter either way, in terms of efficacious potential for spiritual growth through applied practice? But from the perspective of comparative religious studies, comparative literature, multi-cultural, interdisciplinary humanities, historical and cultural studies, etc, etc, that’s one heck of a great little “co-inky-dinky” instance to realize: That when Lord Buddha gave personal meditation instruction to his closest heart disciples, he initiated them into the meditative use of ancient Vedic mantras. At least according to the accounts preserved in the canonical Buddhist scriptures themselves.
Again, this would be a little like discovering about the earliest texts of the Gospel accounts of Jesus teaching His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, that in the language used by Christ—whether that was Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, or whatever, that He had chosen specific words for meditative prayer already long utilized in ancient Jewish Merkaba/Kabbalah mystical lineages as “mantras”—“name-&-form” words cherished for their effective vibrational-sound value when mentally used in deep meditation, in addition to their having various mystical values on the level of their conventional intellectual representational/conceptual “meaning” as “names” of God, or of angels and/or ascended saints, or of abstract spiritual principals and characteristics, any/all of which values are to be unfolded within the minds and lives of the initiated meditating/praying disciples.
And then, of course, it’s not sufficient to maximum effectiveness in systematically unfolding full potential for enlightened higher states of consciousness to simply know the most suitable mantra to use in meditation. One also needs to know the most effective way to use the mantra to transcend the grosser and finer levels of thinking and thus to systematically, repeatedly arrive effortlessly, consciously at the source of thought. Conversely, knowing how to effectively (naturally, effortlessly) transcend thought on a systematic regular basis is of limited value compared to knowing both the most suitable mantra to use, and the most natural, expedient method for transcending the ordinary waking state and entering naturally into the state of samadhi or union. Together, these form the basis of establishing stable growth of higher states of consciousness, and support from the various laws of nature.
This holistic approach to spirituality is something that can’t easily be learned from a study of books, but (under the right conditions) can easily be imparted and guided person-to-person by a qualified teacher. In many ancient spiritual traditions, this is a key component of the emphasis placed on the necessity for a personal teacher. In the early days of Christianity, this tradition of the immeasurable value of personal initiatic instruction in meditative/contemplative, mystical prayer practice seems to have been understood and preserved for the first four or five centuries.
For instance, St Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), regarded as a Father of the Church and a great adept both of Jewish Christian gnosticism, and classical Greek philosophy and mystery schools, studied with St Pantaenus. St Pantaenus had traveled in India (where he found a community of Christians), as well as studying with disciples of St John the Apostle (d. c100 AD). And St John of course was regarded as the close and beloved disciple of Jesus. From St Clement descended a few subsequent disciplic generations of important mystic saints: St Clement taught both St Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem, and Origen (184-254) who, though not canonized as a saint, is also recognized as a Father of the Church. Origen taught St Gregory Thaumaturgus (c213-270), who taught St Macrina the Elder (d. c340). St Macrina taught her son, St Basil the Elder, as well as her grandchildren, the several children of Basil the Elder: St Naucratius, St Basil the Great (329-379), St Gregory of Nyssa (d.395), St Peter of Sebaste, and St Macrina the Younger, among others. Thus with the saintly grandchildren of St Macrina the Elder, we come to a tenth generation of unbroken disciplic succession from Jesus — counting Jesus himself as the first generation, St John the Apostle as the second, etc. After that, it becomes difficult to trace specific disciplic generations in this or other particular Christian wisdom-practice lineages.
Quite often I am asked if I am Hindu, or Buddhist. Yes, I am. Both. But also “neither” in the sense that, though I have received requisite training and authorization to teach within ancient initiatic traditions preserved within both (one and/or the other) of these two distinctive-but-often-somewhat-overlapping spiritual wisdom-practice systems, I do not self-identify with either in terms of seeing myself as a member of any particular religious institutions or as an adherent of any particular doctrinal belief-systems. As such, I am either more-or-less-equally both a Hindu AND a Buddhist, but also a Christian, AND a Daoist, AND a Jew, a Sufi, etc., etc. (all such things), AND/OR I am, at the same time, more-or-less equally none of these things. I love what I am able to appreciate as good and humane and beautiful and useful and spiritually evolutionary, ie supportive of conscious evolution or growth, in any traditional spiritual and/or religious wisdom-&-practice heritage.
The particular traditional meditation methods and other related internal spiritual core practices I do every day, and have done every day since my childhood, generally do come under the cultural-historical heritage category of being outwardly Vedic-Hindu and/or Buddhist, more than any other such outward category (ie Confucian, Zoroastrian, Christian, etc). However, I practice these traditional internal procedures and mental techniques not because they have come down to the present day as preserved and passed-on in, by, and through these particular custodial cultural heritage traditions, but because I find them personally effective. To the degree that these internal practices are effective, I regard them as universal in nature and non-sectarian. To me, it’s perhaps a little bit like thinking of zucchini as Italian in nature, because it’s called “Italian squash” and has a historical connection with that country and culture; or calling Lima beans “Peruvian” in nature for the same reason. Or Irish potatoes, etc. These foods are universal in their potential for offering personal nutritional value and gustatory pleasure; they are not really restricted to just any one location or culture or people.
I deeply honor the traditions through which the core practices I have adopted have come to me by way of inter-generational lineages of teachers, passed on through the long passage of time. But I don’t love these practices and their lineages only or even primarily because they are in some particular outwardly-associated way “Hindu” or “Buddhist,” etc. The roots of these living lineages and the practices they have preserved are much, much older than the historical Abrahamic faith-traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and also pre-date even the historical emergence of Buddhism (2,500 years ago) and its ancient mother tradition of historical Hinduism. And, along with the methods from ancient Vedic, and Hindu, and Buddhist technologies of consciousness that I practice every day, I also sometimes practice certain specific methods and techniques preserved within various Native American, Sufi, Bon, Taoist, and other ancient and later historical spiritual/cultural traditions. Some of these are identical to elements also found within various Christian and Jewish and other traditions as well. I am not a provincialist in the boundless realm of spirituality. I am universalist, cosmopolitan in my outlook and approach.
But I don’t wish to leave you with an impression of someone who spends most of his day immersed in an arbitrary jumble of disparately rangy &/or nearly-identical, redundantly functional methods and practices. I should mention that my regular “routine” or schedule of daily morning and evening sadhana or spiritual self-discipline is the most delightful part of my day and has been since I was a child. The details of my practice routine have been gifted to me, and modified for me over the years by my principal spiritual guides (living guides, at the time! Primarily His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but also a number of “auxiliary” guides, depending on particular practices.) Although this personal routine definitely leads and structures the lifestyle I pursue, all aspects of my daily life are also an important part of my larger spiritual life and overall practice. The two go together as parts of an ever more cohesive, unified whole — daily life as applied spiritual practice and daily meditation-session practice as the spiritual core of daily life.
gold face celestial bodhisattva / devata may 9, 2016
driver’s license photo: June 9, 2006