Last week, my wife and I spent the week with Dr. Manoj Chalam (a teacher of Hindu symbolisms and mythology), his wife Jyothi Chalam (a Vedanta scholar and South Indian classical singer), yoga and mindfulness teacher Christina Enneking, and about 80 other knowledge seekers at the Rising of Knowledge retreat in San Diego, CA. We practiced yoga, meditation, ceremony, and learned about Vedanta philosophy and yogic (Hindu) deities. We visited the Self Realization Meditation Gardens in Encinitas. Of course, it was an enlightening week. I thought I’d share some of Manoj’s teachings and their relevance to my life’s journey.
When you visit our yoga studio in Vermont, you will see murtis, statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities such as Ganesh, Shiva, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and Hanuman. You can understand a deity at many levels. The easiest way to relate to them is as personal archetypes. The word archetype was coined by the Swiss psychotherapist, Carl Jung. An archetype is a symbol or a form that is imprinted in your subconscious.
There are archetypes from many traditions. For instance, the Sun God is called Ra (Amun Ra) in the Egyptian tradition. The same Sun God in the Roman tradition is called Mitra, while in the yogic (Hindu) tradition, the Sun god is also Mitra or Surya. Even though the cultures were thousands of miles apart, these are Universal archetypes. Interestingly, Mitra was born of a virgin mother on December 25, was a wandering preacher with 12 disciples and when he died, he was resurrected 3 days later! Of course, the cross is another beautiful archetypical symbol. The Hawaiians call these archetypes Aumakua such as Pele, Goddess of the Fire. And I’ve written before about the four archetypes of Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary (I base my morning ritual on them).
The entire philosophy of yogic Self-Realization is embedded in the symbols of these archetypes. These archetypes are within our Collective Unconscious. These archetypes lie deeply embedded in our Causal Body and are available for the whole human race. They appear in times of transition in our lives and help guide us to achieve higher ideals in life. One of the highest ideals is knowledge about oneself (self-realization). When we know who our archetype is, we can learn how to invoke the associated knowledge and superhuman ideals in our lives. At its very core, these teachings are not a religion nor a philosophy. It is a Sadhana (Spiritual Practice) of actualizing our human potential in every stage of our lives. It is always Perfecting as opposed to Perfection and looking at the good in everything around us.
The Sanskrit word for archetype is Ishtadevata. Ishta means desired and devata means deity. The murtis (statues) are not “out there”, but within you as archetypes. They not only help you in your transformation, but they lead you to Awakening. As Joseph Campbell said, myths are Collective Dreams, while your dreams are Personal Myths! When your personal dreams, hopes, and aspirations are in tune with the Collective Dreams or myths, there is amazing harmony in your life.
Finding your archetype (Ishtadevata) is like falling in love: the form of the deity has to appeal to you. It is like walking into a room of new people and immediately liking someone, or going into an art museum and connecting with a piece of art.
Similarly, you can look at these deities, touch them, feel them, understand their Symbolisms and myths. Sooner than later you will find yourself gravitating to one, two or three deities. Usually you have one primary archetype and another secondary one. They change during your life because you change! These archetypes give you the reason to live with joy and help you in your personal, professional and spiritual aspects of your life. They also remind us of the grander ideals we can all live for. They bring out the yearning some of us have to make an impact on people and society and leave a legacy beyond the transitory nature of our lives.
About 20 years ago, I took a grand leap and left my job as a partner in a consulting structural engineering firm. As a young engineer, I had progressed quickly into a leadership role. I was quickly emerging as a firm and regional leader, designing large projects, developing key clients, publishing research work, and leading regional professional organizations. Knowing deep inside that there was a greater service-oriented purpose in my life, I resigned. I had no plans, no job, no idea what was next. But I felt this incredible sense of inner power and devotion to a greater purpose in my life.
Since that time, I have pursued work as a teacher, a coach, a wellness coach and mentor, a spiritual seeker, and as a yoga practitioner. I am a devoted step-father and husband… and son. I have taken additional leaps of faith on my life’s journey, often when my professional career leads me astray from my heart-felt greater purpose. Looking back now, after meeting Manoj and learning about these archetypes, I have realized that the Hanuman in me was guiding me and giving me the power to make these various leaps, especially since that time. But, like many other archetypes and spirit guides with whom I walk, I realize that Hanuman has always been with me.
In a nutshell, Hanuman represents superhuman strength and superhuman intellect with a high degree of devotion. He resides in the heart chakra. If there is one deity who embodies Bhakti (devotion or love-attachment), it is Lord Hanuman. Power comes from devotion. Hanuman represents service towards others with a keen sense of humility.
Hanuman is the ultimate quiet, non-attention-seeking superhero. He enjoys working behind the scenes to support others. Many aspects of yoga come from Hanuman, including many asanas. His father was Vayu, the wind deity so he taught the yogic world pranayama. His guru was Surya, the Sun god so he taught the world Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). He is so intelligent that he is able to reconcile the three main systems of Vedanta philosophy: Dwaita (Duality), Vishishta Advaita (qualified non duality) and Advaita (non duality). Manoj illustrates this aspect in this story: When this unassuming monkey becomes a superstar of the Ramayana, at the end Ram asks Hanuman “Who are you?” Hanuman replies: deha bhavena dasosmi – when I take identification with my body, I am your (God’s) servant. This is Dwaita, duality where you are separate from God and thus express devotion, the path of Bhakti; jiva bhavena twadamshakaha – when I take identification with the traveling soul, I am a part of you – this is Vishishta Advaita, qualified non duality where you are part of God; and atma bhavena twamevaham – when I take identification with pure Consciousness, I am You – this is Advaita, pure non-duality.
And of course Hanuman’s mythical leap to move mountains is memorialized in the pose Hanumanasana. This pose asks you not merely to stretch your legs but also to bring true devotion into your practice. Hanumanasana expresses the expansiveness possible when devotion is in the heart—the sense that you can overcome any obstacle when your yearning to help is combined with reverence and respect, as well as an intense and fiery devotion. In Hanumanasana you strive to reach much further than seems humanly possible.
It is interesting how my personal musings and reflections in the past years have led me down the path of looking at God or the Divine from these various perspectives. I have always felt that I am really me when I am observing myself and the world around me as a totally interconnected, loving, joyful, and spiritual soul… Advaita. In this place, I feel ultimate power and our divine nature… and I see in others our power and divine nature.
Experiences are always shared; our lives are always connected. In you, I see me. I am, because we are. Or, as the Beatles might say: “I am he as you are he as you are me – and we are all together!” and “And life flows on within you and without you…”
Om Anjaneya Namah.
Thank you, Manoj, for being you… and for sharing your insights with the world. (Much of the content in this article is directly from Dr. Manoj Chalam’s teachings.)