Hindu theology is rich with symbolism and their practical implications for our daily life. In a recent talk on “Lakshmi Vaibhavam” (Glory of Goddess Lakshmi) Velukkudi Sri Krishnan Swamy gave a lucid description of the significance of the worship of Lakshmi, the Goddess in the Hindu tradition. First we will attempt to capture in brief the symbolism as narrated by the learned scholar. Then we will expand on the import of such symbolism in our daily life.
Hindu theology considers Lord Vishnu as the Supreme God and Goddess Lakshmi His spouse. Rama and Krishna are considered as the incarnation of the Lord in human form on the earth. Goddess Lakshmi accompanies Him as the Lord’s spouse in each of these incarnations.
Goddess Lakshmi is the first and last resort for compassion to all Her devotees. She is always available to any devotee, who is willing to surrender to Her unconditionally. She accepts both the good and the evil of the devotee. Because of Her compassion, She sorts out the good from the evil. Then she presents the good for consideration by the Lord Vishnu, who as the strict guardian rewards the good deeds. His wrath against evil is harsh. He exercises unrelenting righteous anger against evil to foster the good. He exercises this valor to preserve the order and justice in the universe. Hence pre-screening and proper presentation of the good, thanks to the kindness and compassion of the Goddess serves well for the devotee in the face of the His valor and righteous and fearsome anger! When the Lord looks favorably at the evidence presented to Him, He grants the gift of Liberation or salvation to the devotee. But, before He grants this reward, the Lord glances at the Goddess Lakshmi. Noticing Her approving look, the Lord feels convinced of His action and its appropriateness and grants the blessing to the devotee. Thus Goddess Lakshmi and the Lord Vishnu together collaborate as the source of compassion and valor for all those who seek their grace and blessing.
The symbolism of the Lord and His spouse is respected in all aspects of Hindu way of life. The birth of a child is greeted and celebrated as the entering into the household by the God or the Goddess. The child is raised with stories and songs from Ramayana (the journey of Rama) and Krishna Leela (the divine play of Krishna), that are intended to imbibe “Godliness” in the thoughts and habits of the child as it grows into an adult. The marriage ceremony of the bride and groom in the Hindu tradition is also celebrated in a manner that parallel the rituals practiced in the celebration of divine marriage of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. Hence it may not be farfetched to extend the above theological description of compassion and valor ascribed to the God and Goddess into the facets of our daily life.
In the family life, one among the couple invariably serves as the arbiter of the rules and regulations. Such order is necessary for any family unit to meet its many obligations while conforming to the many competing needs and yet progress forward. Frequently this role falls on the father. There is also a need for someone else to serve as the compassionate facilitator to steer through the rough tides of time. The tough dad and the kind mother as role models for their children is familiar to most of us. The ideal way of leading a family life is one where the family lives with a valor governed by a moral compass and steadfastness around it. Yet, such adherence to values and righteousness has to be practiced with compassion and kindness that tolerates failures and failings. This appropriate balance between the husband and wife provides the proper nurturing climate for their children to challenge themselves to greater heights while also having the space for solace and comfort that their failures do not become an irreversible path for further failure and self-destruction. Such balanced approach brings tranquility and a divine quality to family life. Its impact is also passed down through the generations for eternity. This enduring legacy may be seen as the liberation and away from the tumult of daily rigors and the turbulent upheavals of family life.
The divine qualities of compassion and valor and their intimacy can also be extended within to each of us as individuals. We need our rules and regulations for strict adherence to the many valuable aspects of life such as truth, nonviolence, honesty, moral conviction, perseverance for the larger common good, etc. The more we recognize, pursue and adhere to these greater aspects of human qualities, the better we become as individuals, citizens and members of the community. But, pursuits of these values are fraught with challenges. We have already seen the limits of truth in our earlier essays https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/truth-and-its-limits/
We face similar challenges of right and wrong in many aspects of nonviolence, honesty, morality, … In all of these qualities, we succeed and also fail. Our failures and failings can always serve as a source of learning only when we are compassionate to the self and accept our failures. One can truly forgive the failings of others only when one can genuinely forgive the self. The compassion to be kind and considerate to our failures is intimately connected with the bravery necessary for perseverance to do well in all our higher goals. Hence the symbolism ascribed to the God and Goddess – the valor and compassion – and their interconnectedness should be experienced inside each one of us. If our mind (and its relentless reasoning between right and wrong) is the seat of our valor, the heart (and its relentless compassion to be kind and considerate) is the seat of compassion. Perhaps this is implied symbolically when Hindus worship Lord Vishnu (the seat of valor) with Goddess Lakshmi (the source of compassion) seated in His heart!
I liked the interesting interpretation of Vishnu as Mind, which analytically evaluates situations and people and Lakshmi as Heart which is more visceral and capable of compassion. Life is harmonious when heart and mind work together in concert. Since Lakshmi is the Goddess of Wealth, perhaps Vishnu and Lakshmi are symbols for Mind and Matter. This is akin to Shiva and Parvati (Shakti) who symbolically share their celestial bodies (as in Ardha Nari) being compared to resource (matter) and energy which are inseparable.
It is nice to get an idea about the valor and compassion working together. It is ordained that the mind is the seat of reason and the heart is the seat of emotion.
Heart really does not feel, but it is used as a convenient symbol to depict emotions. It is always the mind which is the seat of both reasons and emotions.
When reason works on emotion, it becomes compassion. For such an outcome the most important aspect is the value system. Unfortunately, the development of strong values gets limited in today’s commercial world. We all can find people directionless (not confused) when confronted with a decision making process in life. They normally lean towards convenience and turn a blind eye to conviction.
The reasons and emotions will and should always be working in opposite directions. That is the in-built balance in a human being. The mind must decide whether one decides on the basis of reasons or emotions in a particular situation. These situations are aplenty in everyday life. We just decide on factors which are really so alien to the issue and go about justifying the decisions later.
So are we, living in this world, so directionless. We conveniently use the word “confused” in the place of “directionless”. Being confused is a virtue most of us will take our lifetime to understand.
The anology is very appealing. Enjoyed the thought pattern and flow. Thank you !
Loved reading this piece.