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"Last-minute" gift ideas?

"Last-minute" gift ideas?

With the December solstice only a few days away, all readers have undoubtedly finished all their Christmas (or other appropriate holiday) shopping, but for those who may still be trying to come up with that last gift idea, I would suggest that anyone could hardly ask for more this holiday season than to receive his or her own copy of one of the ancient sacred texts of humanity.

You may agree with me that a copy of the Mahabharata belongs on every bookshelf -- perhaps several copies of the Mahabharata, since there are many different translations, and there is also the original Sanskrit for those who enjoy learning new writing systems and languages and reading texts in their original format.

Above is a link to an abridged retelling of the Mahabharata by Krishna Dharma, which I believe has much to recommend it.

A complete English translation of the massive original epic (which is over seven times longer than the Iliad and Odyssey, combined) is also available online, by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, published towards the end of the nineteenth century. While it does contain some anachronistic language (most notably the use of the older forms of the second-person personal pronoun, such as thouthee, and thine, and of the verb forms which go along with them, such as wilt and hast and so on), it also has a great many virtues, including a lively style and a true appreciation for the spirit of the text, and most importantly its completeness.

However, if you want to actually put the entire Ganguli translationon your bookshelf (twelve volumes), it is fairly expensive to do so. It is also probably a rather daunting read for those who are not already dedicated Mahabharata fans. Therefore, one of the abridged retellings is probably a better place to start, and I believe that the Krisha Dharma version linked above is a good start (there are several others as well, each with its own strengths and weaknesses). Those who fall in love with this epic can then explore other retellings and translations, perhaps acquiring the entire Ganguli translation, and perhaps even venturing into the Sanskrit as well.

The other great Sanskrit epic is the Ramayana, and here again Krishna Dharma has an outstanding retelling, which moves along briskly, conveys the majesty of the legendary setting and ancient culture, brings out the depth of the characters, confronts the deep questions of duty and consciousness present in the text, and provides much to meditate upon and consider for what it has to tell us about our own journey through this incarnate life.

If anyone you know does not have a physical copy of the Ramayana in his or her home library, this retelling would certainly be a welcome addition, in my personal opinion.

Continuing with the theme of ancient epics that belong on every bookshelf (if practicable), and can by themselves provide years and years worth of profitable reading and re-reading, contemplation and meditation, the great Homeric epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey have never been translated into the English language so magnificently, perhaps, as they have been by the late scholar of ancient Greece, Professor Robert Fagles.

I personally had the opportunity to meet Professor Fagles and hear his thoughts on the power and personal relevance for each and every one of our lives of these great epics attributed to Homer, as well as to teach his translation of the Odyssey at the college level to young cadets at the US Military Academy back in the early part of the last decade.

Some of my colleagues who had been there in the English Department at West Point before I arrived also had the opportunity to teach the Iliad, and although I did not actually teach the Iliad to students, I can attest that the translation of the Iliad by Robert Fagles is moving, powerful, and worthy of reading in front of the fireplace late into the night, with frequent pauses to ponder the impact of the ancient wisdom which can be found on every single page.

Reading the Iliad, one is presented with the undeniable evidence of Peter Kingsley's assertion that the "original instructions" have been tragically lost somewhere in the ancient history of "western civilization." Here, you will find a worldview in which the realm of the gods is understood to be both an extension of and intimately intertwined with the ordinary reality upon which our consciousness is usually focused. 

And you will have occasion to wonder at those Seers described as skilled in interpreting the flight of birds, and where along the timeline of human history that knowledge may have been lost (and if it somehow survived). Perhaps you (or the one to whom you give this ancient text as a gift) will never look at a passing dove or hawk or sparrow or vulture quite the same way again!

But as much as I do love the Iliad, and as much as I believe it has to teach us right now even in this most modern moment of the present day, I have always loved the Odyssey even more, even from my pre-teen days.

I have had several "favorite versions" of the Odyssey through the years. Before Professor Fagles published his translation, I think the W. H. D. Rouse translation was the first one that I read, followed by the Robert Fitzgerald translation, but the Fagles translation of the Odyssey has to be the superlative English translation (in my opinion), and it also has the great advantage of being a verse translation of what is, after all, epic poetry.

Having access to multiple translations can never be a bad thing, of course, and this recommendation should not be interpreted as a criticism of other translations: but if it is at all possible, I personally believe that every home should have a copy of the Fagles translation of the Odyssey (unless that home's occupants are fluent in another language, of course, in which case there may be better translations in other languages upon which I am not qualified to comment). It has to be the next best thing to being able to read the original ancient Greek (which of course would be the best option, but certainly not a trivial undertaking).

So, those are a few "ancient wisdom" ideas for last-minute gift-giving assistance, if anyone is still wondering. You should be able to obtain any of those from a variety of different bookseller options, including your local neighborhood bookstore.

Another option, not exactly an ancient text although it does offer some commentary upon the ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as well as offering examples and instructions from the Vedas and especially the Upanishads, is the classic Light on Yoga (Yoga Dipika), by B. K. S. Iyengar.

This text is probably very familiar to anyone who is already a practitioner of Yoga, but even those who are not (or who are "not yet") may be very grateful to have access to its clear and compelling explanation of the practice and purpose of Yoga, which goes far beyond the practice of the asanas (as important and as beneficial as those can be). 

From its outset, the book explains that Yoga is a system given to humanity which teaches "the means by which the jivatma can be united to, or be in communion with the Paramatma, and so secure liberation (moksa)" (19). In other words, its aim is to facilitate the connection between the "individual human spirit (jivatma)" and the "Supreme Universal Spirit (Paramatma or God)" (19).

Reading the lucid explanations of Yoga's role in this pursuit, one who does not already follow the path of Yoga may experience a strong inclination to start!

In one passage in Light on Yoga, while discussing the concept of

Aparigraha ("not hoarding or collecting" -- one of the five principles of Yama), we read:

Just as one should not take things one does not really need, so one should not hoard or collect things one does not require immediately. 35.

This passage, perhaps, suggests another "last-minute gift idea" we might consider at this winter-time of giving and receiving gifts: the idea of giving away things we no longer need, or do not require immediately, or generally helping those in need even if we do not know them personally.  

This particular virtue (of "not collecting") is not one that I myself am especially good at, but the spirit and teaching of Light on Yoga has certainly spoken to me on this subject, and caused me to think about doing more to give away those things that I "do not require immediately." 

In any case, the above "gift-giving" ideas are offered as possibilities in the category of gifts that contain a breath of that ancient wisdom given to humanity in the distant past -- which remains as relevant today as ever (perhaps even more so).

Thanksgiving and blessing 2015

Thanksgiving and blessing 2015

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Thanksgiving is a day traditionally associated with two very important and related concepts: that of giving thanks, and that of blessing.

When we first consider these two concepts in conjunction with each other, the immediate connection that will probably come to mind is that we give thanks for the blessings that we have in our lives, including those material needs which we simply must meet in order to stay alive, such as food and some level of protection from the elements.

It is of course entirely appropriate to pause and give thanks for the fulfillment of our material needs -- both on a daily basis and on special days such as this one.

But, even as we depend upon meeting certain needs in order to sustain our physical life, and even as we give thanks for the continued ability to do so, we also would probably agree (if we continued to think about the two concepts of thankfulness and blessing) that the idea of blessing involves more than the mere meeting of our common material needs.

Indeed, previous posts on this subject have argued that the concept of blessing nearly always invokes something in the realm beyond the material realm (reaching out towards the divine realm or the invisible realm), and that in fact blessing can be defined as the raising up or calling forth or bringing out of that aspect of ourselves and others which transcends our merely physical aspect.

Blessing involves elevating the spirit, elevating our awareness of and resonance with the world that is not material in nature, even though it is invisibly present at every point in the material world at all times. Blessing calls out to or seeks connection with that invisible realm which, according to the words of Lakota holy man Black Elk, is in fact "the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world."

Indeed, if we continue to pursue this idea even further, we might come to the realization that all of the material security in the world does not actually convey or ensure this aspect of blessing -- the aspect that involves something which transcends the material world altogether. 

Realizing this does not, of course, mean that there is anything wrong with wanting to secure the physical means of staying alive such as food and shelter, and or with wanting to ensure as much as possible that we will have access to them in the future as well -- but it does mean that unless we also learn about the way that we connect to the other realm, the invisible or divine realm, we will find that no amount of material security can ever fill the gap.

Indeed, there are numerous ancient texts and teachings which indicate that the pursuit of material things which are, in themselves, actually good and necessary can and will become an obstacle to our hope of satisfying that invisible need, if we make them our primary focus.

Dr. Peter Kingsley addresses this subject explicitly in his 1999 book In the Dark Places of Wisdom, when he says:

What isn't there, in front of our eyes, is usually more real than what is.
We can see that at every level of existence.
Even when we're finally where we want to be -- with the person we love, with the things we struggled for -- our eyes are still on the horizon. They're still on where to go next, what to do next, what we want the person we love to do and be. If we just stay where we are in the present moment, seeing what we're seeing and hearing what we're hearing and forgetting everything else, we feel we're about to die; and our mind tortures us until we think of something else to live for. We have to keep finding a way away from where we are, into what we imagine is the future.
What's missing is more powerful than what's there in front of our eyes. We all know that. The only trouble is that the missingness is too hard to bear, so we invent things to miss in our desperation. They are all only temporary substitutes. The world fills us with substitute after substitute and tries to convince us that nothing is missing. But nothing has the power to fill the hollowness we feel inside, so we have to keep replacing and modifying the things we invent as our emptiness throws its shadow over our life.
[. . .]
And there's a great secret: we all have that vast missingness deep inside us. The only difference between us and the mystics is that they learn to face what we find ways of running away from. That's the reason why mysticism has been pushed to the periphery of our culture: because the more we feel that nothingness inside us, the more we feel the need to fill the void. So we try to substitute this and that, but nothing lasts. [. . .]
Western culture is a past master at the art of substitution. It offers and never delivers because it can't. It has lost the power even to know what needs to be delivered, so it offers substitutes instead. [. . .]
Even religion and spirituality and humanity's higher aspirations become wonderful substitutes. And that's what's happened to philosophy. What used to be ways to freedom for our ancestors become prisons and cages for us. 33 - 36.

But, there is a way through this problem, and the rest of the book explores the evidence that it was known in ancient times, before it was lost or deliberately concealed -- the way to what Peter Kingsley calls "the peace of utter stillness" (36).

Exploring texts and clues which only survive in fragments in the West, he points to a poem by Parmenides describing a journey, not from darkness into light, but rather the other way around, from light into darkness and in fact "down to the underworld, into the regions of Hades and Tartarus from where no one usually returns" (52 - 53).

How this journey leads to that place of utter stillness, and "the peace of utter stillness," has tremendous implications for all of the most pressing problems facing us today, in the cultures descended from those that apparently lost or suppressed or marginalized this knowledge at some point in centuries past. The interested reader is highly encouraged to read -- and re-read -- In the Dark Places of Wisdom

in order to fully appreciate the ancient message that Dr. Kingsley reconstructs from the clues that remain.

But, interestingly enough, while only scattered fragments of the trail remain in the ancient history of the western European cultures, there are parts of the world where the stream of this knowledge was not interrupted -- and among the sacred texts of ancient India there is a description of a journey to the underworld which speaks directly to this very subject.

The Katha Upanishad (also called the Kathopanishad) is an ancient Sanskrit text which describes the journey of a youth named Nachiketa who journeys to the abode of Yama, the dread king of death.

The entire poem is available in translated form in various places on the web, such as here, and can easily be read in one sitting of about fifteen minutes or less -- but its message, like that of In the Dark Places of Wisdom , is profound, life-changing, and worthy of careful consideration for much longer than a few minutes.

You may want to follow the above link and read the Katha Upanishad in its entirety for yourself before proceeding further.

The plot involves the fact that Nachiketa is granted three boons by Yama the god of death, on account of the fact that when the youth first arrived in the underworld, Yama was not at home and Nachiketa was not welcomed with proper hospitality. Because of this oversight, Yama graciously offers to the visitor three boons -- a word that itself translates to "blessings."

Nachiketa modestly asks first that his father's anger be appeased when Nachiketa returns from the underworld (Nachiketa's father, in a fit of rage, angrily ordered his son to Yama's kingdom at the beginning of the story: a textbook example of cursing, which is the opposite of blessing). 

He then asks that Yama instruct him in the proper performance of the fire ritual, as his second request.

Nachiketa then asks to know whether a person continues to exist after the death of the body.

The back-and-forth between Yama and Nachiketa at that point is extremely interesting to observe, and if you have not actually gone to the Upanishad itself using the above link, you may want to do that now (and continue on to see what Yama says afterwards, in its entirety, for yourself). 

What happens is that Yama asks to be released from that boon, and for Nachiketa to think of something else to request instead:

Ask for sons and grandsons who will live
A hundred years. Ask for herds of cattle,
Elephants and horses, gold and vast land,
And ask to live as long as you desire.
Or, if you can think of anything more
Desirable, ask for that, with wealth and
Long life as well. Nachiketa, be the ruler
Of a great kingdom, and I will give you
The utmost capacity to enjoy
The pleasures of life. Ask for beautiful
Women of loveliness rarely seen on earth,
Riding in chariots, skilled in music,
To attend on you. But Nachiketa,
Don't ask me about the secret of death.

We later learn from a line in the text that Yama suggested all these things as a way of testing Nachiketa,  to see whether he is worthy of receiving the highest spiritual instruction from the god of the underworld. It is extremely interesting to note the similarities to the passage from one of the books collected into what has been labeled "the New Testament," a passage known as the "temptation of Jesus," found in the first thirteen verses of Luke chapter 4.

Nachiketa replies, "These pleasures last but until tomorrow, and they wear out the vital powers of life. How fleeting is all life on earth! Therefore keep your horses and chariots, dancing and music for yourself. Never can mortals be made happy by wealth." He concludes by saying, "Nachiketa asks for no other boon than the secret of this great mystery."

Then Yama unfolds the deepest wisdom regarding the true Self, the higher Self, which cannot be revealed through the intellect alone (Yama explains that the intellect is good for discriminating between dualities, but cannot grasp this deeper truth).

The god says, in words very reminiscent of what Peter Kingsley has discovered in the ancient fragments of a now-lost tradition that was also once taught in the west:

The wise, realizing through meditation
The timeless Self, beyond all perception,
Hidden in the cave of the heart,
Leave pain and pleasure far behind.
Those who know they are neither body nor mind
But the immemorial Self, the divine
Principle of existence, find the source
Of all joy and live in joy abiding.
I see the gates of joy are opening
For you, Nachiketa.

Nachiketa then says, "Teach me of That you see as beyond right and wrong, cause and effect, past and future."

Yama replies:

I will give you the Word all the scriptures
Glorify, all spiritual disciplines
Express, to attain which aspirants lead
A life of sense-restraint and self-naughting.
It is OM ॐ   This symbol of the Godhead
Is the highest. Realizing it one finds
Complete fulfillment of all one's longings.
It is of the greatest support to all seekers.
Those in whose hearts OM ॐ reverberates
Unceasingly are indeed blessed
And deeply loved as one who is the Self.
The all-knowing Self was never born,
Nor will it die. Beyond cause and effect,
This Self is eternal and immutable.
When the body dies, the Self does not die.

This knowledge, preserved from ancient times and given to us in the Vedic texts, bears directly on the subject at hand, of blessing and the connection with the world that is beyond the material world, and the aspect of our being that exists beyond the material plane.

We see that the god of the nether realms tells Nachiketa that blessing is not achieved through any of the material things of this world: blessing is clearly shown to be of the spiritual rather than the material realm. 

The imagery Yama uses to describe the mystic who pursues "the timeless Self," not just of meditating but of going down into "the cave of the heart," also resonates strongly with the teaching found in Peter Kingsley's In the Dark Places of Wisdom.

According to the Katha Upanishad, it is when the sacred sound of ॐ reverberates in the heart unceasingly that one is indeed blessed.

The context itself indicates that this sound connects to the highest divinity. In the Bhagavad Gita,  part of a different ancient Sanskrit text, when the Lord Krishna reveals himself to be Infinite, he says to Arjuna, "I am the spirit seated deep in every creature's heart" and that he  himself is the first of all written characters, as well as the OM  ॐ of sacred speech (chapter 10). 

Taking this understanding back to the teaching Nachiketa receives in the Katha Upanishad, the words of Yama appear to be saying that blessing involves the internal connection to the Infinite which is available to us inside the cave of our own heart. The reverberation of the OM inside is an expression of the connection to the Infinite: Yama is saying that blessing is found within, when the divine reverberates in the heart.

I believe that we should be grateful and express thanks for the ability to meet our material needs, and that we should work to find ways to help others who are in need. But in addition to the material needs, it is very clear that the ancient texts of humanity teach that there is another need which is found in a completely different direction.

We can be thankful that the human race was given the ancient texts, myths, and sacred teachings which point us towards the inner place where this blessing can be found.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).


Afterword: So why are these lessons in the ancient texts imparted to the traveler by the god of death? It is obviously not because Nachiketa has to actually die in order to learn these lessons: the text itself makes clear (in the answer to his first boon) that he will be returning to the land of the living after his visit with Yama. I suspect that there may be many layers to the answer to this question, but that one aspect of the answer may well have to do with the concept of detachment, mentioned so frequently by the Lord Krishna in his discourse with Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. 

If, for example, we spill an entire jar of milk, which is food that costs money and helps keep us alive, and we fly off the handle into a fit of rage, then clearly we are exhibiting some level of attachment to that food -- which is perfectly understandable for material human beings who require food in order to keep their bodies alive. But, that fit of rage will not undo the spilt milk, so to speak. Krishna's admonition is to do what is right in this life, without attachment -- without becoming attached to the results, either in hope of gain or in avoidance of loss. The only way to overcome the tendency to cry over spilt milk, and many other exhibitions of attachment, is to pursue a practice of detachment.

On another level, however (or perhaps when viewed from a different perspective upon the same deep concept), the fact that these discourses (found across many ancient cultures) take place in the realm of the underworld with gods or goddesses of death may well relate to the otherworldly journey taken by those who are capable of entering into the state of ecstatic trance. Peter Kingsley explicitly makes this connection in his book In the Dark Places of Wisdom, for example on page 121 where he says of the otherworldly journey described in the poem of Parmenides:

The answer to the problem is so simple once you see what he's saying, and what he's doing. As a 'man who knows' he's an initiate -- someone who's able to enter another world, to die before dying. And the knowledge of how to do that is what leads him to the wisdom given by Persephone.

Ahimsa, blessing, and the coils of the Python

Ahimsa, blessing, and the coils of the Python

image: Wikimedia commons (link). 

In an important episode in the Mahabharata, we see the most physically-powerful and menacing of the five Pandava brothers -- Bhima whose might is equal to that of ten thousand elephants -- exulting in his strength as he plows through the woods, frightening the animals with his loud whoops and shouts, and pursuing even the mighty snakes into their lairs.

Then he encounters a serpent who turns out to be more than his match.

We find this episode related in Book 3 of the Mahabharata, beginning in section 177:

Then the mighty Bhimasena, like unto the Lord of the Celestials, saw a serpent of colossal proportions, living in one of the mountain fastnesses and covering the cave with its body and causing one's hair to stand on end. It had its huge body stretched like a hillock, and it possessed gigantic strength, and its body was speckled with spots and it had a turmeric-like color and a deep copper-colored mouth of the form of a cave supplied with four teeth; and with glaring eyes it was constantly licking the corners of its mouth. And it was the terror or all animated beings and it looked like the very image of the Destroyer Yama; and with the hissing noise of its breath it lay as if rebuking. And seeing Bhima draw so near to him, the serpent, all on a sudden, became greatly enraged, and that goat-devouring snake violently seized Bhimasena in his grip. Then by virtue of the boon that had been received by the serpent, Bhimasena with his body in the serpent's grip, instantly lost all consciousness. Unrivalled by that of others, the might of Bhimasena's arms equalled the might of ten thousand elephants combined. But Bhima, of great prowess, being thus vanquished by the snake, trembled slowly, and was unable to exert himself. And that one of mighty arms and of leonine shoulders, though possessed of the strength of ten thousand elephants, yet seized by the snake, and overpowered by virtue of the boon, lost all strength. He struggled furiously to extricate himself, but did not succeed in any wise baffling this [snake].

Bhima was, as Everett McGill might say, "in a tight spot."

The serpent informs Bhima that he was once a respected sage, in fact Bhima's distant ancestor Nahusha, but was being punished for his pride by being changed into a serpent.

He also informs Bhima that he must devour him.

For those who wish to read the entire Mahabharata before they find out whether or not the snake has Bhima for dinner, stop here and come back in a few months when you've finished.

For the rest of the readers (or for those who have read the Mahabharata already and know the outcome), turning to section 178 and 179 we learn that Bhima's brother Yudhisthira the just, noticing the absence of Bhima and experiencing a series of omens that warn Yudhistira that Bhima is in grave danger, comes looking for him and finds the mighty one coiled in the grip of the great serpent.

Realizing that this can be no ordinary snake, Yudhistira addresses it respectfully, to learn how it can possibly hold the invincible Bhima helpless in its grasp. Nahusha informs Yudhistira of his true identity as their distant ancestor, the fifth in descent from the moon in fact, and tells the eldest Pandava that he can only be released from his serpent-form by one who can correctly answer questions regarding the nature of the incarnation of the soul and its release.

Yudhistira, who has spent his life in careful contemplation of just such questions, and who has moreover spent much time in discussion with the forest ascetics who have chosen a life in pursuit of spiritual matters, says to Nahusha, "Ask away!"

What follows perhaps is best to read in the Mahabharata itself (following the links above, and if you are able to read Sanskrit you can also find this passage in the original language, beginning here in section 178). 

In summary, however, the mighty serpent asks Yudhistira how one may achieve transcendence from the cycle of incarnation (he firsts asks Yudhistira who is a true Brahmana, and receives the answer that it is not in fact determined by birth or by caste but rather by purity and virtuous conduct, which is an important subject for another discussion).

Yudhistira answers Nahusha, in section 180 that the one who achieves the transcendent state is the one who "bestows alms on proper objects, speaks kind words and tells the truth, and abstains from doing injury to any creature."

Thus we see that the ancient wisdom teaches us that acts and words which can be categorized as blessing are critical to our purpose here in this incarnate life, as is the principle of doing no injury to others.

The word used for doing no harm is ahimsa.

Hearing this answer, and having finally found one who can put it into words, Nahusha is released from his long millennia of bondage in the form of a serpent, and ascends into the higher realms. Bhima is freed from the enervating coils of the enchanted python, after he had already resigned himself to being devoured for his carelessness and pride.

This episode, like nearly all the others in the Mahabharata (and in all the world's ancient myths, scriptures and sacred traditions) can definitely be found to have its origin in the celestial pattern of the stars and constellations. In this particular case, Bhima is almost certainly played by the important constellation Ophiucus, whom we have encountered previously in our examinations of the story of Jonah and the gourd, as well as the story of Mukasa in Africa and indeed in the events of the life of the Buddha.

Note the details of the serpent's initial description, how he is said to have its huge body shaped into the form of a hillock , and indeed to cover the entire mouth of a cave -- both of which can be seen as clues regarding his celestial identity. He also is described as having four teeth, which almost certainly refers to the four stars in the head of the serpent held by Ophiucus in the sky. Additionally, the great snake is described as looking like the very image of Yama the Destroyer, who can also by this and other clues from the scriptures of ancient India be identified with Ophiucus.

Furthermore, the constellation Ophiucus -- while usually envisioned as holding a serpent -- can also be envisioned as having a serpent wrapped around his body, just as Bhima does once Nahusha coils himself about the great hero and takes away his strength.

Of course, you probably won't be able to figure any of that out for yourself if you use one of the many "standard" diagrams for the constellation Ophiucus (which are usually terrible -- see for example this outline).

However, if you use the outstanding system first published by H. A. Rey in 1952, then you can begin to speak "the language of the ancient myths." Below is the outline of Ophiucus as envisioned by H. A. Rey (and superimposed upon the stars as seen in the open-source planetarium app stellarium.org).

Having determined (just in case it was not clearly evident from the presence of a talking serpent) that this episode from the Mahabharata is not intended to be understood as literal history but that it is a celestial allegory, we can then begin to ask ourselves what it might mean -- why was it given to us, and what knowledge is it intended to convey?

Without going into too much depth (the reader is invited to contemplate all the profound implications of this story for himself or herself, as with all the other sacred wisdom given to humanity in the form of the ancient myths), it seems clear enough that this story depicts our human condition, bound within the coils of incarnation.

Both Nahusha, who has been turned into a serpent, and Bhima, who is trapped within the coils of the serpent and finds himself deprived of his accustomed celestial strength, can be seen as depicting the condition of the soul when it comes down from the realm of pure spirit and is bound in a body made of the lower elements of earth and water (clay) -- "this mortal coil," as Shakespeare calls it in Hamlet.

The serpent, of course, is a perfect symbol of the cycles of incarnation, because it sheds its skin as if sliding into a new form and leaving the old one behind, over and over again.

It is also a perfect symbol of our incarnate condition in that it binds and constricts its prey (Nahusha is described as a mighty python or constrictor), just as this material existence seeks to wrap its charms about us and cause us to become entangled in the exigencies of the physical life and its charms, robbing us of our memory of our celestial or spiritual nature (and note that Bhima is held more by the charms of the mystical serpent than by its actual strength, and that when he falls into its clutches he is in fact described as losing consciousness for a period of time before recovering his wits).

Fans of The Matrix (a movie which came up during my recent Grimerica interview) might envision Neo when he is still in the grip of "The Matrix" itself -- penetrated and held fast by its many hideous serpentine coils.

In this episode from the Mahabharata, of course, the most important aspect of the entire encounter is the question of how one can overcome the coils of the great serpent -- how one escapes the curse (both for Bhima and for Nahusha, who has been made to crawl on the ground as a python in order to learn something for his own benefit and eventual transcendence).

The answer is given quite plainly in the question-and-answer between Nahusha and Yudhistira. Clearly, the ancient text seems to imply that the twin concepts of blessing and ahimsa are absolutely critical to our escape from the coils of the python, and from the danger of its eventually devouring us.

But note also that the serpent is a powerful symbol of wisdom around the world (including in the texts of ancient India, as well as in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, where we are admonished to be as wise or cunning as serpents), and that the concept of raising the serpent

is central in Yogic and other spiritual practice (see previous discussion here for example), in the deity Okeanos and Acheloos (also spelled Achelous) in ancient Greece -- who echoes a similar divine force found in ancient Egypt and related to the divinity of the Nile River itself but also to the heavenly river of the Milky Way and to the internal kundalini within the "microcosm" of each and every human being -- and also in the episode of the serpent on the pole described in the book of Numbers and referenced again in the New Testament (and many more examples can be found around the world).

Thus the idea of being "cast down" into this world -- either as a serpent or "unconscious within the coils of the serpent" -- and then overcoming and "raising the serpent" through right conduct that involves being a blessing, invoking blessing, and not doing violence, is a vital central theme throughout the world's ancient wisdom . . . and therefore was seen as being vital and central to our own acquisition of the gnosis or understanding or transformation which is our soul's purpose in coming into the material world in the first place.

Ultimately, I believe that this concept is identical to that which is stressed throughout the Bhagavad Gita (which is part of the Mahabharata, and can be found in book 6 of the epic), regarding the admonition -- constantly presented to Arjuna by the Lord Krishna -- to do what is right without attachment.

This is worth contemplating deeply.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Scott Onstott reveals the profound message of Leonardo da Vinci and his art

Scott Onstott reveals the profound message of Leonardo da Vinci and his art

Scott Onstott has two new books out relating to the divine proportion, one entitled The Divine Proportion and one exploring Leonardo da Vinci's incredible encoding of the divine proportion into his paintings entitled Secrets in Plain Sight: Leonardo da Vinci.

Scott's amazing work includes his analysis of the significant and esoteric proportions, patterns, and geometries found around the world in the location and design of cities, parks, monuments, and buildings, which he has detailed in his extremely popular video presentations entitled Secrets in Plain Sight, Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Scott also analyzes sacred geometries, proportions and patterns present in the natural world, including in the relationships of the earth, moon, sun, and the planets of our solar system.

His work has been discussed on this blog previously here: "Scott Onstott and the metaphor of form."

I have been working my way through Secrets in Plain Sight: Leonardo da Vinciand highly recommend it for your own careful consideration. 

It is worth pondering long and deeply.

Scott begins with a brief but powerful summary of the incredible achievements and ongoing importance of Leonardo himself (1452 - 1519).

He then explains the concept of the divine proportion (the golden ratio, the proportion of which is designated by the Greek letter phi) and its mysterious qualities -- with accompanying diagrams and labeled illustrations that should make its properties more understandable than perhaps any discussion of the golden ratio that you have encountered before (Scott is a trained architect and a teacher and author on the subject of architectural visualization software and techniques).

The discussion reveals the mysterious, unchanging, infinite, and self-contained properties of the divine proportion, and why and how it conveys aspects of what we might call the Infinite Realm, the Divine Realm, the Invisible Realm. 

As you open your eyes to what is being presented, you will realize that phi does not just point us towards the Infinite: in many ways it actually manifests the Infinite Realm in itself, and impresses it upon our deeper understanding.

Scott then presents stunning evidence that demonstrates convincingly, beyond any doubt, that Leonardo da Vinci incorporated this divine ratio -- and its unfolding in the infinitely self-generating golden rectangles and the golden spiral that they create (the book shows how this spiral generates) -- into his art, over and over again, and with a degree of precision that indicates he knew exactly what he was doing.

But why?

Clearly, the golden ratio resonates powerfully with us -- our own bodies, and many aspects of the universe around us (perhaps every aspect of the universe around us), exhibit the golden ratio or phi on nearly every level. Scott even visually illustrates the way that DNA, the basic code of all known life, unfolds according to the golden ratio at its most fundamental level.

The golden ratio is aesthetically pleasing and attractive, even if we do not consciously recognize its presence.

But as Scott shows the golden rectangles and spirals present in the art of Leonardo da Vinci, he uncovers evidence that da Vinci was incorporating this divine proportion to convey and even more powerful message. As Scott says in the description of Secrets in Plain Sight: Leonardo da Vinci on his website

here:

Leonardo's secret pointing to the divine proportion's divisions to physical and illuminated third eyes suggests he saw the divine not just in a transcendent heaven, but immanently in the human body and in the world.

That sentence is worth reading a few times for full effect.

What Scott's illustrations in the book, in which he overlays golden spirals upon the artwork of da Vinci, reveals quite clearly is that the spirals almost inevitably concentrate upon one eye of a human subject in the painting, or (even more frequently) upon the point of the "third eye" in the center of the forehead.

The implication, as Scott makes plain in the quoted sentence above, is that Leonardo da Vinci was conveying the message, using phi as the representative of the Divine and the Infinite, that the very same Infinite which unfolds in every aspect of the physical universe around us (and which shows that the Invisible Realm is present at every point in the seemingly-material cosmos) is also present in each and every man and woman: the divine in us.

And, as has already been said above, when da Vinci "drops phi" into his artwork, he is not just placing a symbol of the Divine or the Infinite into the art: he is putting an actual unfolding of Infinity right onto the canvas! The golden proportion actually is infinite, in and of itself, and it actually does begin to generate infinite spirals and an infinite rectangle-series, the moment you place it onto the page!

Note carefully what Scott Onstott is saying in that sentence above about the presence of this Infinity in both the heavens and the human: da Vinci recognized that it was present everywhere, both on the incredible scale of the heavens, and in the proportions of the human body, and that it "spirals inwards" to our eye (the "window to the soul") to suggest that the divine is there as well.

The divine ratio is present in every strand of DNA, and in the astronomical distances and scales with which our infinite universe is framed. It is operating everywhere and at all times, effortlessly unfolding and contracting, outward to the most distant galaxies and inward to the secret universe of our interior world.

The illustrations in Scott's book must be seen to be fully appreciated. I would suggest that a physical copy belongs on the shelf of every library, public or private, home or university.

But that's not all.

Because there appear to be even more "secrets in plain sight" hidden in the artwork of Leonardo da Vinci (and conveying the very same message of the inner connection to the Infinite, the inner connection to the Divine), because I would argue that some of the artwork that Scott examines also reveals da Vinci's understanding of the esoteric celestial system of metaphor operating at the foundation of the sacred stories and scriptures of the human race.

The very first painting by Leonardo that Scott presents in his book (the paintings are presented and discussed in chronological progression) clearly reveals da Vinci's awareness of the celestial metaphor underlying his subject, which is The Anunciation by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, depicted in Annunciazione by da Vinci, 1472:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Not only does this painting show that the twenty-year-old Leonardo was already masterfully incorporating phi proportions and spirals in the composition of his art (as Scott Onstott's diagrams demonstrate), but it also appears to indicate that the artist was very familiar with the esoteric connection between the Biblical personages and the constellations of the heavens.

I have already published an extensive analysis of the celestial correspondences in the critically-important New Testament story of the Annunciation, in which the angelic messenger declares the coming of the Divine to Mary -- the Divine made to dwell in the flesh. 

That analysis shows that Gabriel is almost certainly associated with Mercury or Hermes -- the messenger of the gods in ancient Latin and Greek mythology -- and the closest planet to the sun (which is why Gabriel explains that he "stands in the presence of God" in Luke 1:19). Gabriel, like Mercury, is always depicted carrying a wand (often in the form of certain long-stemmed flowers, in the artwork depicting Gabriel).

But although Gabriel is almost certainly associated with the actual planet Mercury (which of all the planets can most accurately be said to "stand in the presence" of our blazing sun), he can also be identified with a specific constellation in our night sky, and one who appears above the constellation who almost certainly corresponds to the Virgin Mary.

Leonardo da Vinci seems to have been well aware of these celestial correspondences, simply from the way he depicts his subjects in The Annunciation, with Gabriel kneeling and extending his hand in a distinctive gesture (while also holding the flower-wand in his other hand), and Mary seated in a distinctive posture herself, while extending one arm towards Gabriel (and turning her head "just so," in a way highly reminiscent of her celestial counterpart).

Take a look at this portion of the sky, containing the important constellations Virgo the Virgin, and her constant companion Bootes the Herdsman:

Can you see da Vinci's Annunciazione in the stars depicted above?

How about now:

The angel Gabriel is almost certainly played by the constellation Bootes, who appears to be in a seated position in the sky but who is often depicted as kneeling in Star Myths from around the world, such as when he plays the role of the Buddha in Asia and Mukasa in Africa (analyzed in this previous post) or the role of Bodhidharma (also known as Da Mo or Daruma, analyzed in this previous post).

The angel is clearly depicted as kneeling in Leonardo's 1472 painting of the Annunciation.

The angel is also holding a wand, which corresponds to the long "pipe" of the constellation of the Herdsman shown above. This wand is the same feature which appears as the flute of the god Krishna in the scriptures of ancient India, as discussed in this previous post.

You can also find depictions of Krishna (including statues and icons) in which the outstretched hand of the Lord Krishna makes a hand gesture which is very similar to the distinctive hand-gesture that the angel Gabriel is making in this artwork by Leonardo da Vinci (and which is seen in many, many other depictions of the angel Gabriel and the Annunciation down through the centuries). Here's one, from a statue of Krishna with one upraised hand:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Note that if you look carefully, you can also see that Krishna is holding a flute in a hand on the other side from his upraised hand. 

[All of these connections between Gabriel, Hermes/Mercury, Buddha, Da Mo (or Daruma) and other Bootes-figures from the Star Myths of the world should show quite convincingly that all these sacred texts and mythologies are united in their foundation and their esoteric message (contrary to what has often been taught, especially by those who wish to take the ancient myths and scriptures literally, instead of esoterically).]

Behind the seated (or kneeling) form of Bootes in the night sky is the distinctive arc of the Northern Crown, or Corona Borealis. At first, I thought that this arc-shaped constellation might show up in the painting by da Vinci of the angel as the arc in the angel's wings, but after further consideration I decided that Leonardo might actually be envisioning the wings to be formed by an interesting and somewhat unique way of connecting the stars along the front edge of the constellation Hercules. If so, then I believe that the Northern Crown is probably functioning as the halo of the angel.

Turning now to the figure of Mary herself, it is fairly intuitive to connect her with the stars of Virgo the Virgin. Previous posts have discussed the importance of the connection inherent in her name with the word for "sea" or "ocean," and how the celestial Virgin stands at the edge of the metaphorical "sea" in the heavenly cycle of the zodiac (see the discussion here for example). 

But Leonardo includes enough clues in his painting to demonstrate beyond a doubt that he is referring to the outline of Virgo in the heavens. 

If you look at the seated posture of the constellation Virgo, and then look at the angle at which da Vinci has chosen to depict his Virgin Mary in Annunciazione, you will see that one would be hard-pressed to paint a more accurately depiction of the constellation than he has in his work. Her legs are apart and parallel, her body bends at approximately the same angle, and her outstretched arm points towards Gabriel just as the outstretched arm of Virgo points towards Bootes in the sky.

Below is a detail of Mary from da Vinci's painting, with the outline of Virgo superimposed. Note that even the angle of Mary's head in the painting and the way in which she has it slightly turned evokes the  form of the zodiac Virgin:

I would thus argue that Scott Onstott's title accurately describes this aspect of Leonardo's work as well: da Vinci is "hiding" these incredible secrets in plain sight!

I would also argue that by incorporating these celestial patterns, Leonardo is reinforcing the very same message that Scott argues Leonardo is conveying through his incorporation of the divine proportion in his paintings:

Just like the ancient myths and sacred texts themselves, Leonardo is bringing down the denizens of the celestial realm and incarnating them in the human form!

He is declaring that the Infinite and the Divine dwell in human flesh. The stars above evoke the Infinite, and we ourselves reflect the stars (as above, so below).

Just as the universe unfolds on the proportions of phi on planetary and galactic scales, and just as we ourselves reflect this same proportion in our bodies and even our strands of DNA, the Infinite and Divine realm that interpenetrates the material cosmos also unfolds like a spiral inside our inner universe (converging on the window of our soul, our physical eye or our spiritual "third eye").

I am extremely grateful to Scott Onstott for writing Secrets in Plain Sight: Leonardo da Vinci, and for bringing home in such a visual and understandable way the genius and the ongoing importance of Leonardo and his work, and most importantly his message -- the same message, ultimately, as that brought by the angel Gabriel: the message of the divine coming down to earth, and dwelling in men and women.

----------------

In addition to ordering them from Scott's own website (linked above), you can also find Scott's books on Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.

Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋節 and the Total Lunar Eclipse ("Blood Moon") of September 2015

Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋節 and the Total Lunar Eclipse ("Blood Moon") of September 2015

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

This Sunday, September 27, marks the beginning of the traditional celebration of mid-Autumn festival in China and Vietnam. It is a very ancient holiday, its observance stretching back to as early as 3600 years ago, and perhaps even earlier, and it is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture. Great effort is usually made to travel and be with family on this day, much like Thanksgiving in the US, and for several days around the holiday many businesses and markets are closed as people make their way back to the places where they grew up, in order to celebrate with their extended families.

The Chinese characters for this holiday are 中 秋 節 which is pronounced Zhong Qiu Jie in Mandarin and Jung Chau Jit in Cantonese, and which translates literally into "Mid-Autumn-Day" or "Middle-Fall-Holiday" (or even more literally the "Mid-Autumn-Node").

Jung Chau Jit is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, the fifteenth day corresponding in general to the full moon in a lunar month (because a lunar month commences with a new moon, and the moon waxes for fourteen days to become full, which happens on the fifteenth day, and then wanes for fourteen more days to the point of another new moon), and so this festival always falls very close to or directly upon the day of a full moon, as it does this year.

Thus, the Mid-Autumn Holiday is also a Moon Festival, and is in fact often called the Moon Festival, and an important tradition during the days (weeks!) leading up to this holiday and on the day of the holiday itself is the giving of round "mooncakes," light gold in color and filled with a variety of different kinds of heavy, sweet fillings, and sometimes with a candied egg yolk:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

These are traditionally served by being cut carefully into four equal quarters (a little combination cutting-and-serving implement, something like a small version of a cake trowel, is often included in commercially-sold mooncake boxes or packages), with each person present being given one section. The cakes themselves often have "blessing" words baked into the top of them. 

Being a Moon Festival, the holiday is also closely associated with the Moon Goddess, pictured at top, whose name is 嫦 娥 which is pronounced Chang Er  in Mandarin and Seung Ngo in Cantonese and translates rather directly into "Chang the Beautiful" or "Seung the Beautiful." 

There is a legend about Seung Ngo and her husband, 后 羿 being banished from the heavenly realms by the Jade Emperor (whom we met in the earlier discussion of the Lantern Festival, which takes place in the first lunar month) and having to live down upon the earth as mortals (his name is pronounced Hou Yi in Mandarin and Hau Ngai in Cantonese, and it means something like "King Archer").  

In the legend, he is distraught at the idea that his beautiful wife, having been banished from the celestial realms, is now faced with mortality, and so he seeks and eventually obtains an elixir of immortality which will restore their immortality to them. However, as so often happens in such myths, the plan goes awry, when she is forced to drink it all herself (either to keep it from a marauding robber who breaks in to steal it from her while her husband is away, or because she is overcome with curiosity while he is asleep, and drinks the whole elixir without knowing the consequences).

As soon as she does, she feels herself floating up into the heavens, without her unfortunate husband, who is left behind as a mortal. The two are thus separated forever, but Seung Ngo settles on the Moon, where she can look down upon Hau Ngai, and he can gaze up to her new home and think of her.

Having examined some of the most prominent aspects of this important ancient holy day, we are now in a position to benefit from the deep knowledge contained within its symbols and forms.

Because this poignant myth, and all the other symbols of the Mid-Autumn Festival, are powerful symbols which speak to truths about our incarnate existence, this existence in which we find ourselves crossing the "underworld" of the material realm in a physical body -- which is closely associated with the figure of the moon in the ancient system of celestial metaphor -- but doing so with the dimly-remembered awareness that we are separated from our true home (and disconnected from our higher "divine twin") during this earthly sojourn, and that we are in fact actually spiritual beings as much or more than we are physical beings.

The festival, positioned in the time of year next to fall equinox, contains the same symbols of a goddess and the fall from the celestial realm into the mortal incarnate life associated with the point of autumn equinox literally worldwide in the ancient myths.

Among them:

  • The presence of a goddess-figure (in this case, the goddess Seung Ngo, or Chang Er), goddess figures being shown in the previous post to be associated in ancient myth the world over with the point of fall equinox and the plunge into incarnation.
  • A myth in which there is a prominent theme of expulsion from the heavenly realm and banishment to the earthly realm (the plunge into this lower realm), featuring a duo in which one of the pair is mortal and one divine: just as we, in this incarnate life, find ourselves "crossed" with a physical body and an internal divine spark. 
  • The incorporation of moon-themes to go along with the incarnation theme of the fall equinox (dominated by the presence of a goddess at the point of incarnation). As Alvin Boyd Kuhn demonstrates in extended discussions found in Lost Light, published in 1940, the ancient myths  and sacred traditions very often used the moon to symbolize our incarnate form, and the sun our divine spirit, which lights up and animates our physical body in the same way that the sun gives its light to the moon (see pages 115 and following, for example, or 520 and following, or 139 and following, or 521 and following). In that exploration of ancient myth, Kuhn says quite explicitly: "The sun types soul, always, the moon, body" (479), and elsewhere: "The moon being the parent of the mortal body, lunar symbolism was prominently introduced into the portrayal "(140).
  • The connection of the moon (our incarnate side) with the idea of water, seas, oceans, and incarnation (through the tides, and also through the internal tides of our body), which also connects with the goddess-ocean connection discussed in the previous post (with examples which demonstrated the "mother-ocean" connection inherent in the names of Mary, Tiamat, and Aphrodite, as well as in the Chinese ideograms for mother and ocean).
  • The tradition of gathering together with family at the Moon Festival, representative of the idea that we align the cycle of our personal lives and our physical motions (often traveling great distances) with the cycles of the earth, sun, moon and stars: reinforcing the profound connection between "microcosm" and "macrocosm" discussed in the preceding post (and many others), a connection which the ancient myths and sacred traditions of the human race the world over all seek to convey. 
  • The tradition of gathering together with family at the Moon Festival, which also commemorates our physical, material entry into this incarnate life, which is celebrated when we honor our family and especially our parents.
  • Traditions in this holiday (especially as celebrated in Vietnam) which focus on children and proclaim it to be a holiday which honors young children, who are just embarking upon their journey through the incarnate human life.
  • The tradition that mooncakes are cut up into four quarters, which is clearly connected with the lunar symbology, but also with the concept of "crossing" or the crucifixion of this incarnate life (see numerous previous posts which demonstrate that the Great Cross of the year was associated in ancient myth with the twin components of incarnate human existence: the horizontal component representing the physical, "dead," "animal" nature of our body, and the vertical component representing the spiritual, divine, celestial component of the invisible and infinite realm which the ancient myths tell us is actually all around us and also within us and within every other being with whom we come into contact).

Clearly, then, the Mid-Autumn Festival preserves a great many symbols which carry a profound spiritual message, using the symbology of the moon (associated with incarnation), the casting down from the spiritual realms into incarnate existence (in the story of Hou Yi and Chang Er, or Hau Ngai and Seung Ngo), the myth regarding a married couple who are extremely close but who find themselves in the condition of one divine and one mortal (the "divine twin" pattern found around the world, including in the myth of Castor and Pollux but also of Jesus and Thomas and many others), the traditions of gathering with family and ordering our lives in accordance with the cycles of earth, sun, moon and stars, and the traditions of honoring our physical family and our parents, who brought us into this incarnate body in the first place.

It is also worth pointing out, in passing (although it could become a full-length examination and discussion) that a great many Chinese characters which use the symbol for "the moon" actually refer to our physical human body. The Chinese ideogram for "moon" is:

Other words whose ideograms use this as a "radical" in their Chinese character, and which relate to the physical human body, include:

The liver: 

The ribs or chest: 

The armpit, or arms:

The elbow:

Pelvis, groin or thighs:

The diaphragm:

Internal organs, guts, viscera:

A gland:

Fat, plump, or obese:

And there are many others.

Some scholars or those familiar with Chinese radicals may argue that none of the above characters are actually connected with "the moon," even though the radical looks just like the Chinese symbol for the moon, because the actual radical for "meat" -- which looks like this --

ends up looking like the symbol for "the moon" when it functions as a radical in a compound character. 

That is a valid argument, but we must ask ourselves why that "meat" symbol turns into a "moon" symbol in all of these ideograms? The answer, of course, could very well be the fact that the ancient wisdom of the human race universally acknowledged an esoteric connection between the moon and the physical, corporeal, carnal ("meat") body.

And so it becomes clear that all of the symbology of the culturally significant and anciently-established Mid-Autumn-Festival can be shown to be connected to other mythological symbols used in other myths around the world -- all of them designed to impart to us profound gnosis regarding our human condition here in this incarnate life, including the fact that we are not merely physical beings but that our human nature consists of both a physical and a spiritual component, that our physical "moon" form (associated with water) is illuminated by our spiritual "solar" and divine nature (associated with fire and with air -- or spirit).

Now, very briefly, let us also note the fact that because the Mid-Autumn-Festival always falls on or very near a full moon, it will also periodically happen that this anciently-ordained observation will coincide with a lunar eclipse. Previous posts on the actual celestial mechanics of the moon phases (see here, here, and here) have explained why lunar eclipses must always coincide with a full moon, and why solar eclipses must always correspond to a new moon (not every full moon is a lunar eclipse, of course, nor every new moon a solar -- but every lunar eclipse occurs at full moon, and every solar eclipse occurs at new moon).

This September 27 full moon also happens to take place when the moon is passing through a "lunar node" (a "crossing point" with the plane of the ecliptic of the earth) and will therefore result in a total lunar eclipse visible for most of the Americas, Africa and Europe (see resources from Sky & Telescope regarding this eclipse available here).

Not only is this a total lunar eclipse, but it is also a total lunar eclipse which corresponds to the moon's closest approach on its orbit around the earth, when it is physically closer to us and thus appears physically larger in the sky -- all of which add up to the promise of a spectacular heavenly event this weekend.

This particular moon (all month long) is in fact known universally as the Harvest Moon (in China also), which is traditionally understood to be the brightest moon of the year.

All of these factors argue that this weekend's lunar eclipse should be worth going out and watching, if at all possible in your particular global location and circumstance.

As the moon enters the shadow of the earth, it will take on a dusky red hue -- which (only recently) has begun to be designated as a "blood moon" by some in the popular media and in certain evangelical circles (largely based upon a literalistic interpretation of certain Old and New Testament scriptures which I believe can be definitively shown to be esoteric in nature and not literalistic in nature). Scriptures in the Old and New Testament which describe the moon as turning to blood or being bathed in blood include the following texts:

Joel 2:31 "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come."
Acts 2:20 "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:"
Revelation 6:12 "And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;"

Alvin Boyd Kuhn actually addresses many of these Biblical passages directly, and argues (with extensive textual evidence) that the description of the "moon becoming as blood" only emphasizes even more dramatically the esoteric symbolical connection between the moon and our physical body in this human life.

Discussing the passage cited above from Revelation 6, he explains among the metaphors given: 

along with the darkness over the earth, the veiled sun, the blood-stained moon, is that "the stars from the heavens fell." In the same place we read that "when the message of the third angel was sounded forth, a great star went down from heaven and it fell upon the earth." Another star fell at the sounding of the trumpet of the fifth angel. The various legends, then, of falling stars become invested with unexpected significance as being disguised allusions to the descent of the angelic myriads to our shores , -- to become our souls. 116.

In other words, Kuhn here argues that the metaphors in Revelation 6 (and indeed throughout the Bible)  all have to do with our incarnate condition, consisting of a "crossing" between spirit (symbolized by the sun) and matter (our material bodies, symbolized by the moon). 

This interpretation (according to Alvin Boyd Kuhn) would include the metaphor of the earth being enshrouded by darkness -- because we plunge down to incarnation in the lower half of the zodiac wheel, as described in numberless previous posts. The lower half of the wheel is the half in which night triumphs over daylight (initiated by the fall equinox, when the hours of darkness begin to be longer than the hours of light, in each 24-hour period):

It would include (according to Kuhn) the moon being bathed in blood -- because the moon represents our incarnate condition, our sojourn in a body composed of water and blood and clay, our crossing of the "Red Sea" (which can be metaphorically seen to be the crossing which each and every human being undertakes, going through life in a human body through which courses the "red sea" of the blood in our veins and arteries).

It would include (according to Kuhn) the stars being cast out of heaven and forced to "fall upon the earth" -- for this is the very condition in which we find ourselves, as human souls who dimly realize that we come from a spiritual home, but who have been exiled (just like Hau Ngai and Seung Ngo) upon this material plane.

In other words, the passages in Revelation (and all the other esoteric Biblical scriptures) are describing our own human experience, our experience as divine beings who have been "crossed with" physical, material, animal bodies during this incarnate life.

And this is just what all the other Star Myths of the world are trying to convey to us as well! (Note that it can be conclusively demonstrated that the passages of the book of Revelation involving the opening of the seven seals are absolutely based upon metaphorical descriptions of the constellations in our night sky, as I demonstrate briefly in this previous post regarding Revelation Chapter 9: they are all allegorical celestial metaphors which use the awe-inspiring motions of the heavenly cycles to convey truths to us about the invisible realm).

Indeed, all of these metaphors and sacred scriptures are designed to convey to us the very same truths conveyed through the ancient metaphors connected to the Mid-Autumn-Festival celebrated in China and Vietnam and some other surrounding cultures from time immemorial.

As the day of the first full moon after fall equinox approaches, it is a time for contemplation and reflection upon our human condition in this incarnate life -- our "plunge into matter" which in ancient myth was associated with the point of the fall equinox, with the goddess at the edge of the ocean (or the goddess of the Moon), and with the "crossing" of our divine nature with a physical body.

And yet, even as we are plunged into this physical human form, we are given forms and symbols and myths and stories and scriptures to remind us that this material world that is visible and perceptible to our senses is not all that there is, and that this physical "animal" human body we inhabit is not all that we are. 

Just as the moon is illuminated by the fire of the sun's life-giving rays, so our material nature is illuminated and animated by a higher spiritual self that exists "above and beyond" our merely physical carcass. 

Just like the mooncake in the Jung Chau Jit celebration, which is divided and quartered into four equal sections, we ourselves are made up of a "cross," a "crucifix," a "quartered whole" consisting of both a horizontal line (between the equinoxes, and associated with matter) and a vertical line (between the solstices, reaching towards infinity, and associated with all that is spiritual, and with raising the spiritual aspect within ourselves and with calling it forth in those we meet and indeed in all of creation around us).

I sincerely wish you a very blessed Mid-Autumn Festival, and harmony between the microcosm and macrocosm. May all beings be freed from suffering and filled with peace and joy, love and light.

Chinese characters and the moment of Equinox

Chinese characters and the moment of Equinox

The ancient wisdom imparted to humanity in the myths, sacred stories, and scriptures found literally around the world is built upon a system that ties our motions in this incarnate life to the great cycles of the heavens -- the motions of the sun, moon, stars, and planets, and the multiple cycles of the earth including its rotation, annual orbit, and ages-long precessional motion.

Our lives here on earth, in our human bodies, reflect and echo the great movements of the celestial spheres -- and the motions of those celestial orbits can be seen as depicting the spiritual drama of each and every human soul journeying through this incarnate existence on earth.

All the sacred scriptures and stories of the human race can be shown to dramatize the great heavenly cycles in order to convey profound spiritual knowledge for our benefit during our human experience.

Amazingly enough, the very symbols and characters with which those sacred myths were recorded (for those that were written down in texts) also reflect and embody the very same heavenly cycles and the spiritual teachings conveyed by those celestial motions!

In other words, just as each individual man or woman is a "microcosm" who can be said to contain and reflect the entire infinite universe (that is to say, the "macrocosm"), so also each individual letter or hieroglyph or symbol can be seen to act as a sort of "microcosm" of its own, containing and conveying the same spiritual message that is found in the body of sacred scripture which is made up of all those individual letters and symbols.

Today, at a special point in the heavenly cycles seen as having great significance in the ancient myths of the human race, we will examine some ways in which the individual letters and symbols contain and reflect the same message conveyed by the ancient scriptures and myths themselves.

The earth will cross through the point of autumnal equinox at 01:22 am Pacific Time on September 23 this year (2015). This is the same as 08:22 am Greenwich time on September 23. 

The "calendar date" of the solstices and equinoxes shifts slightly from year to year, due to the fact that the earth does not rotate on its axis an exactly-even number of rotations from one point of equinox or solstice to the next from year to year: in other words, it rotates 365.242 times before coming back to the same point relative to the sun from one year to the next, which is why measuring from solstices and equinoxes is actually more precise than using the various calendar systems when figuring out where we are relative to the sun, and why calendar systems have to use various types of "correction mechanisms" (such as intercalary days or leap-years) to keep the calendar days from "slipping" too far from the mechanics of the earth-sun relationship.

Because of this fact, we can expect the autumnal or fall equinox to occur on September 22 in most years, but it will occasionally take place on the 21st or the 23rd.

The point of fall equinox is a "crossing point" at which the ecliptic path of the sun during the day crosses below the celestial equator, after being above it through the summer months (in fact, from the point of spring equinox, up through the summer solstice, and all the way back down until reaching fall equinox). In other words -- and all descriptions here are for an observer in the northern hemisphere -- the arc of the sun's path through the sky has been higher than the celestial equator, which is that invisible line in the sky that traces an imaginary great circle 90-degrees down from the north celestial pole (very close to Polaris, the North Star).

The arc of the sun through the sky during the day has been north of that line (closer to the north celestial pole, higher-up from the southern horizon) as it traverses from east to west.

Now the arc of the sun will be lower than that celestial equator-line in the heavens, and closer to the southern horizon, and thus the angle of the sun's rays on the northern hemisphere will be less steep and more shallow, and the hours of darkness will begin to be longer than the hours of daylight. This effect will increase as we hurtle towards the point of winter solstice: the arc of the sun's path will be lower and lower, the angle of the sun's rays will be shallower and shallower, and the hours of darkness will be longer and longer.

(Of course, for observers in the southern hemisphere, this point of fall equinox for the northern hemisphere is actually their spring equinox, because as the sun's arc gets further and further south, it is actually higher in the sky for them, as it gets closer and closer to the south celestial pole, and higher and higher above the north horizon).

As has been explained in many previous posts on this subject, the ancient scriptures of the world used these awesome heavenly cycles to depict truths about invisible aspects of our simultaneously spiritual-material universe, and about our human condition as spiritual beings "cast down" into physical-material bodies here in this incarnate life.

The point of equinox, at which the sun's path falls below the celestial equator-line, plunging the world into the half of the year in which darkness dominates over daylight, was used as a metaphor to convey truths about our plunge down from the realm of pure spirit into the realm of matter. Here at the fall equinox, the upper half of the year (associated with the spiritual realm and the "higher elements" of Air and Fire) gave way to the lower half of the year (associated with the material realm and the "lower elements" of Earth and Water).

Below is a diagram, familiar to regular readers of this blog from previous posts such as this onethis one, and this one, showing the Great Circle of the year with the points of equinox marked with a red "X" at each equinox: the spring equinox for the northern hemisphere on the left  (in the "9 o'clock position" if this was a clock face) and the fall equinox on the right (in the "3 o'clock position"). The progress of the earth through the year is clockwise in this diagram (from the spring equinox "X" at the "9 o'clock position," we proceed upwards to the summer solstice at 12 o'clock, and then start back downwards to the autumnal crossing point at 3 o'clock).

The "upper half" of this circle of the year is the fiery half, the heavenly half -- representative of the realm of spirit, the realm of the gods, and the spiritual part of our nature.

The "lower half," on the other hand, was the realm of matter and gross incarnation in bodies of "clay" (combining the "lower two elements" of earth and water) -- and it was often metaphorically connected with water, the ocean, the sea, the deep, and the underworld.

In the diagram above, I have attempted to illustrate this metaphor by adding watery ocean waves to the lower half of the circle.

The point of autumn equinox is the point at which we "plunge" down into this incarnate lower realm: the point at which we dive down into the sea, so to speak. And there, at the autumn equinox, guarding the gate to the incarnate realm, standing at the point of the plunge into the ocean, we see the zodiac sign of Virgo the Virgin (for the Age of Aries, which can be seen to be operating in many of the ancient myths of the world, although there are also abundant references to the earlier Age of Taurus and the even earlier Age of Gemini in the world's myths as well).

Interestingly enough, figures in the ancient myths associated with the sign of Virgo and with the plunge down into incarnate existence are often goddess figures, often mother figures, and often have names  or mythological attributes which explicitly connect them with the sea or the ocean.

The most obvious of these, perhaps, is the New Testament figure of Mary (or Maria) -- whose name contains a root word mar or mare which means "ocean" or "sea" (and which can be found in many English words connected to the sea, such as "mariner" or "marine life" and even "to marinade").

Another example is Tiamat, a creator goddess of ancient Sumerian and Babylonian myth associated with the primordial sea, and whose name was similarly synonymous with the ocean.

Even the goddess Aphrodite or Venus was strongly associated with the sea -- and in fact, with the very "edge of the sea" or the "verge of the sea," and with the sea-foam in particular (the name Aphrodite, in Greek, was associated with the word aphros, meaning "sea-foam," although some scholars also attest there may be an etymological connection as well to the name of the goddess Ishtar or Astoroth or Astarte).

All of these heavenly figures are mother figures (Aphrodite or Venus was the mother of Aeneas, for example, the central figure in the Aeneid) and are simultaneously associated with the sea -- and this is appropriate for the fact that our plunge down into this incarnate life, this "lower half" of the wheel, this crossing of the Red Sea, begins for each of us at our human birth. Every person who ever lived has a mother, to whom we each are indebted for our material life, our very incarnate existence.

It is fascinating to observe that this connection between "mother" and "sea" or "ocean" is contained in the very letters or symbols with which we convey thoughts in the form of writing: for instance, the words for "mother" in many, many languages of the world begin with the sound we write in the alphabet that is derived from Phoenician, Greek, and Roman sources as "M" or "m" -- a symbol which is clearly reminiscent of waves of water or the ocean's rollers.

In the Chinese characters, this connection between "mother" and "ocean" is even more clearly visible, in the characters for "mother" and "ocean," of which the symbol for "ocean" is built from the symbol for "mother," with a "radical" known as the "three water dots" or drops added, as well as a kind of crowning symbol sometimes known as the "top of mei" radical (radical 20 in the chart of modern radicals).

Here is the Chinese character for "mother" (pronounced mu in Mandarin and mou in Cantonese, both of which preserve the "m-sound" associated with the word mother around the world):

And here (and also at the top of this post) is the closely-related Chinese character for "ocean" or "sea," which is pronounced hai in Mandarin and hoi in Cantonese, and can be found in words such as Shanghai and hoi sin sauce:

In other words, the Chinese characters themselves (which are very ancient) appear to convey the same connection between "mother" and "ocean" which is found in the figures of Mary, Tiamat, Aphrodite and many others, and which is connected to the celestial cycle associated with the fall equinox and the plunge down into this lower realm, this world of matter (the very word "matter," as has been pointed out by many observers, also being linguistically very close to the word for mother or mater from which we get modern English words such as "maternal").

The characters themselves contain "microcosmic" representations of the spiritual messages conveyed by the ancient myths and sacred stories.

Nor do the esoteric connections of the ancient Chinese characters stop there. If they did, some might argue that attempts to find spiritual messages in the characters are stretches of the imagination, built upon mere coincidence or the "random," undirected development of the characters over the centuries.

But, this same sort of connection can be seen in other Chinese characters as well.

For example, the character for a "temple" is composed of the character for "earth" (which interestingly enough is symbolized by a "cross of matter" upon a horizontal "ground" that is wider than the cross-bar of the cross) above the symbol for a Chinese "inch" -- an "inch of earth," so to speak. The "inch-measurement" symbol is shown below, and was apparently derived from a symbolic depiction of a thumb (appropriately enough, for the measurement of an inch):

So, that is the symbol for an "inch," and if we write the symbol for "earth" above that, we get the character for a "temple," shown below:

This connection of an "inch of earth" with a "temple" is full of important meaning worthy of careful consideration.

A temple is a sacred space -- a place which is set apart from the simply material and which is specifically designed to invoke the invisible realm, the world of spirit, the world of the divine. And yet it is clearly a space that is connected with the measurements and the motions of the great spheres of the heavens and the great sphere of the earth -- because we ourselves reflect and embody the infinite universe in our individual bodies, and because the teachings given in the various temples and sacred spaces around the world have to do with harmonizing our motions with the motions of the spheres and cycles of the heavens and of the earth.

The fact that the character for a temple in the Chinese calligraphy is composed of the characters for "an inch" of "earth" connects the idea of the sacred space with the measurements and motions of our planet and the cosmos. Note that a measurement of distance on our planet is always simultaneously a measurement of time: "seconds" and "minutes," for example, are obviously measurements of time, but they are also defined as a specific distance-measurements, and are intended to relate to the amount of distance the earth rotates in those periods of time.

We should not be at all surprised, then, to find that the Chinese character for "time" is composed of the symbol for "temple," with the addition of the symbol on the left (the radical) which represents the sun.  Thus, a temple is connected not only to an "inch of earth" but also to specifically evoke the presence of the sun in addition to the rotation of the earth, and by extension could be though of as the space in which the rays of the sun move across the rotating earth.  The ancient Egyptian Temple of Karnak comes immediately to mind.

Here is the character for "time":

Note, too, the significant fact that the word for "temple" in English contains the root temp which means "time" and which forms the basis for many other "time-related" words such as "temporary" or "tempo" or "tempest" or "temporal." In other words, both the Chinese characters and the western-language words for a temple preserve this connection between the sacred space and the majestic motions of the sun, moon, stars and planets which translate into our understanding and measurement of time.

Finally, it is also very interesting and significant that the character for "poem" or "metered verse" in the Chinese calligraphy once again contains the character for a "temple," this time adding the radical for "words," which is the flattened-square character symbolizing a human mouth, with four lines above it as if they are words or lines of speech floating upwards from the mouth, just the way that words or letters sometimes float up out of the mouths of characters on Sesame Street (and which, when I was little, I thought would visibly float up out of my mouth also, if I made the sound of a "z" for example).

And so this character seems to be telling us that poetry is a form of sacred speech, or speech for the temple, or words that connect to the invisible realm -- and indeed many ancient myths are written in verse form (from the Vedas of India and the Mahabharata with the Bhagavad Gita, to the poems of Homer and Pindar and Ovid, to the verses of many of the Biblical scriptures).

It is also indicating, of course, that poetry is a form of metered (or "measured") language, which is to say that it is language that has a "time component" to it (a certain number of beats per line), and which thus connects it to the motions of the spheres and to the temp in temple and tempo, as well.

Below is the Chinese character for poetry (the word shi in Mandarin and si in Cantonese): 

In all of these investigations of the symbols used to convey and preserve the ancient wisdom of the human race, we can clearly perceive the thread of the same central teaching: that we have plunged down into a material world, but that the material world is only "half" of the circle, so to speak. 

We are being reminded in all of these myths and in fact in the very letters and characters and symbols used to preserve the myths themselves that we are also spiritual beings, intimately connected to the heavenly realm, the spiritual realm, the realm of the divine, the realm of the infinite.

The ancient traditions involved aligning our lives to the motions of the planets and stars, in part through the recognition of certain special points on the great cycles -- including the point of the equinoxes, two of the most significant stations in all the motions of the heavens and the earth. The aligning of our microcosmic motions to the macrocosmic spheres involved the creation of and visits to sacred spaces, as well as the recitation of verses (sacred speech, or "temple speech" -- metered language) and the singing of certain songs (singing also being a form of poetry or special metered speech).

All of this ancient knowledge can be found literally around the globe, embodied not only in the myths and stories but also in the writing-systems and in the geometry and architecture and measurements and alignments used in the temples and monuments found all across our planet.

On this moment of autumnal equinox, we might all want to pause to reflect upon and be thankful for our own human mother, who gave us this human form we inhabit (the body being specifically referred to as a temple in ancient scripture) and indeed this very life itself.

Which brings us to one more Chinese ideogram, this one for the word "good," which is literally composed of the symbol for a "woman" (slightly different from but symbolically related to the character for "mother" that we have already seen) plus the symbol for a child (the mother first, on the left, and the child character found to the right). It is very good that we each had a mother, or we would not even be here in the first place! And so we should all be able to agree that depicting the character for "good" as a mother with child is extremely appropriate, and relates on some level to all of the other concepts that we have been exploring in this little study.

Below is the character for "good":

In all of the above calligraphy, I am indebted to the outstanding teaching found in the indispensable little volume, Learn to Write Chinese Characters, by Johan Bjorksten (1994), which examines the aesthetics and "design" of the characters, their balance and form and shape and harmony.

In it, he explains the tremendous importance of calligraphy in Chinese culture, and the great weight attached to writing the characters correctly. On page 2, he writes:

Calligraphy, the art of writing, is considered in China the noblest of the fine arts. At a  very early stage in history it became an abstract and expressionist art form, where meaning is of secondary importance and aesthetic expression the prime concern. Many Chinese hold that calligraphy prolongs the writers' lives, sharpens their senses, and enhances their general well-being. By practicing calligraphy you can achieve a glimpse into Chinese aesthetics and philosophy and learn to appreciate an abstract art form.

He also explains that Chinese calligraphy is traditionally learned through writing-out classic poetry -- which clearly connects yet again to all the concepts we have been exploring here (i.e., the letters themselves are sacred and relate to the realm of forms, and they are explicitly connected to and practiced through the medium of poetry, which is a form of special metered speech, the very character of which is connected to the character for a temple).

Writing Chinese calligraphy, in fact, can be a form of meditation -- in which doubts and second-guessing will ruin the desired outcome and the best results require a kind of "action without action" described in the Tao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita. The structure of the characters themselves obey certain principles of balance and proportion and architecture, as Johan Bjorksten beautifully conveys in his text and his examples, and thus can even be thought of as "sacred spaces" all their own.

Any egregious errors or disharmony in the above examples of Chinese characters, of course, are entirely my own responsibility and no reflection on anyone else.

Wishing you harmony and balance at this moment of September equinox, 2015.

Why do we greet the manifestation of the divine with palms together?

Why do we greet the manifestation of the divine with palms together?

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Whenever a manifestation of divinity appears in the Mahabharata, the ancient Sanskrit epic that at over 200,000 lines is about 7.2 times longer than both the Iliad and the Odyssey combined and which contains the entirety of the Bhagavad Gita which itself is one of the clearest and most direct expositions of the ancient wisdom to have survived anywhere, the characters typically greet the divinity with palms pressed together.

The text itself in most cases will specifically describe this palms-together greeting.

For example, in the portion of the Bhagavad Gita in which Lord Krishna the divine charioteer reveals his cosmic form to Arjuna -- reveals his infinite, divine, and un-definable nature to Arjuna -- the text specifically states that Arjuna experiences "great ecstasy" and the hairs of his entire body stand on end as if under the influence of an electric current, and that Arjuna then offers obeisances to Krishna and performs the anjali mudra -- he places his hands together (see the text of Bhagavad Gita 11.14 here, which shows the Sanskrit characters as well as a word-by-word or phrase-by-phrase translation, and also provides an aural reading of the sloka).

The text itself says literally:

Thereafter being overwhelmed with amazement, with his bodily hairs standing on end due to great ecstasy, Arjuna with his body offered obeisances unto Lord Krishna, and began to speak with folded hands [krta-anjalih].

Again, when Krishna directs Arjuna to invoke the goddess Durga in the chapters immediately prior to the section of the Mahabharata containing the Bhagavad Gita, the text once again specifically describes Arjuna as performing the anjali mudra (placing palms together):

Beholding the Dhartarashtra army approach for fight, Krishna said these words for Arjuna's benefit. The holy one said, "Cleansing thyself, O mighty-armed one, utter on the eve of battle thy hymn to Durga for compassing the defeat of the foe." Sanjaya continued: Thus addressed on the eve of battle by Vasudeva endued with great intelligence, Pritha's son Arjuna, alighting from his car, said the following hymn with joined hands. Arjuna said: "I bow to thee, O leader of Yogins, O thou that art identical with Brahman, O thou that dwellest in the forest of Mandara, O thou that art freed from decrepitude and decay, O Kali, O wife of Kapala, O thou that art of a black and tawny hue, I bow to thee. O bringer of benefits to thy devotees, I bow to thee, O Mahakali, O wife of the universal destroyer, I bow to thee.

The same palms-together gesture is described many, many other times in the Mahabharata when divinities appear.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

What does it specifically mean, that the ancient sacred Sanskrit texts describe the performance of the anjali mudra at the appearance of a celestial? 

Please take a moment and re-read carefully the previous post entitled "Namaste and Amen" from July 10, 2014. There, the meaning of anjali mudra is discussed, along with references which explain that the gesture signifies something along the lines of "the divinity in me acknowledges the divinity in you" or "I recognize the one-ness of the divine presence which is in me and in all other beings and in all other things."

In other words, the ancient text is of course telling us that the person who encounters the divinity is recognizing and acknowledging that divinity by pressing together the hands in this gesture.

But the text is also showing us with this gesture that this divinity which they recognize is within them as well.

The characters in the epic, to put it most directly, are constantly greeting the gods and goddesses with the palms-together gesture which says: "Divinity in you -- divinity in me: all one." The divinity which appears, in a very important sense, is already there before he or she appears. Our connection with them is already within us.

This concept is discussed in previous posts discussing the sudden appearance of deities in the Mahabharata (often while meditating or at the recitation of a mantra), including "Why divinities can appear in an instant: the inner connection to the Infinite" and "The blindness of Dhritarastra, and Upamanyu at the bottom of the well."

The fact that the ancient texts are telling us that our connection to the Infinite, as represented by Lord Krishna or the goddess Durga, is actually internal is also discussed at length in the previous posts on the Bhagavad Gita and on the hymn to Durga which also contain videos on the subject.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

When the characters in the Mahabharata place their palms together, they are recognizing that this infinite deity with whom they are now in communication is in fact within them also.

The text is trying to tell us that this is not a "special power" of the characters depicted in the epic (such as the semi-divine sons of Pandu, including Arjuna). It is telling us that this is the condition of each and every human being who has come down to this incarnate life (another reason why violence against others or against oneself is so wrong). We are each "semi-divine" and in actual contact with the infinite (and this is why in India all persons are greeted with this palms-together gesture and the expression "Namaste," just as the previous post linked above discussing the similarity between Namaste and Amen shows that the ancient Egyptians, as recounted by Plutarch, greeted one another in the same way with the word "Amun").

And, it is most significant that this same hand gesture is associated with communication with the Infinite divinity in New Testament times -- because the New Testament texts also tell us quite specifically that the divine is within us. 

There were other texts written at the same time as the texts which were allowed to be included in the New Testament, but which were specifically banned from inclusion in it, which explain the divinity of the individual in even plainer language and metaphor. For example, the Gospel of Thomas speaks of Thomas as having a "divine twin" (see previous discussion here).

And, have a close look at the multiple paintings from previous centuries depicting the New Testament episode of the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan which are shown and discussed in this previous post. Here again, the hands in each and every depiction are in the palms-together gesture -- and note that it is at this event, which in fact is known as "the Epiphany," that the divine nature was revealed (depicted in the episode by the manifestation of a divine voice and the visible descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove).

It is also significant to note that in the first passage from the Bhagavad Gita cited above (from chapter 11 and verse 14) Arjuna is described as having an "electrified" feeling in the presence of the supreme form of Krishna. This may well relate to the invisible power which is called chi in Chinese tradition, and prana in India, and which is discussed in this previous post among others. 

This discussion of the hands-together gesture of namaskaram specifically states that there are different energy points throughout the human body, and that the different hand gestures or mudras of Indic tradition make use of them. It says:

So namaskaram is not just a cultural aspect. There is a science behind it. If you are doing your sadhana, every time you bring your palms together, there is a crackle of energy -- a boom is happening.

I believe that the Mahabharata (along with other ancient sacred texts) is telling us that we all have access to the Infinite, and that when you feel the presence of the Infinite and you place your hands together, you are recognizing that the divinity is also inside you.

Namaste.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).