Hanuman Chalisa

Hanuman statue in Rishikesh, India

It can be difficult to explain the appeal of Lord Hanuman to those who have never read the Ramayana or practiced his devotion.  Those familiar with the monotheistic religions might recoil at this monkey god, for, in these belief systems, animality represents something to be feared or suppressed.  And yet in the tellings of the Ramayana, Hanuman is the picture of devotion and strength, a companion and friend to Lakshmana, Sita, and Rama.  He is also a god in his own right with a complex mythology and philosophy.  Those interested in a complete account will be interested in the book, Hanuman: The Devotion and Power of the Monkey God, by Vanamali.  This post cannot really begin to capture this important deity or even give an adequate reading list, but a few scenes from the Ramayana stand out.

First, the way that Hanuman remembered his divine nature and leaped across the ocean to the island of Lanka serves as a reminder that we all have powers that we keep dormant in the recesses of our minds.  By concentrating on this scene, we feel empowered to give our lives everything that we have rather than holding back.  Just as the Sun was Hanuman’s guru, we can learn from the Sun that we have the divine light within.  Our siddhis, our powers, satisfactions, and perfections, are already there just waiting to be expressed.  Only our doubts and fears hold us back from the unlimited perfection of God.

Next, the way that Hanuman comforts Sita in her hour of distress by bringing Shri Ram’s signet ring reminds us that the Lord is never far away.  Though we sit weeping in a grove haunted by demons (representing the thoughts that always torment our minds), rays of light pierce the gloom in moments of illumination.  Shri Ram is never far away: we only have to call his name in order to find comfort and sure relief from despair.  We should not forget that Sita, too, is a goddess and not just a victim.  She represents the purity of the soul longing for God, and that should give us a way to think of even our sadness as a path to the divine.  If we all had one millionth of her devotion, we would be enlightened instantly.

A third thought about Hanuman is the way that he brought the mountain of herbs to heal Lakshman on the battlefield.  Notice how he spared no expense in healing the Lord’s companion, how he did more than necessary to bring about victory.  There is something extravagant about this action which inspires us to do more than necessary in the battle against bad thoughts.  This action also shows that Shri Hanuman cares about our physical well-being as well as our spiritual well-being.  So we can rightly pray to Hanuman for relief from any sort of ill-health or pain, as long as we do so with great faith and devotion.  We should remember that Laksman would have gladly died for Ram, so there is no question of his bearing suffering unwillingly or with complaint.

The deeds and greatness of Hanuman are indeed overwhelming, so much so that they are impossible to recount, so fortunately we have a prayer in summary form that reminds us of all of the qualities of this valiant deva.  This prayer is the Hanuman Chalisa (the Forty Verses of Hanuman), written by Tulsidas in the Awadhi language.  It can best be recited anytime when the emotional or physical state needs reviving.  It can also be said daily or on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  You can find the full text with audio and video here.  Or listen to Janyananda singing the Chalisa:

May Shri Hanuman give you great strength and faith!  Jai Hanuman! Jai Shri Ram!

Shri Mahalakshmi Gayatri Mantra



This powerful mantra relieves the stress of those who might face financial worries, whether due to some immediate need or longstanding in nature. Lakshmi also confers on devotees a greater appreciation for the beauty of nature and the wisdom to handle daily affairs.  The mantra can best be used by chanting on a japa mala (rosary) 108 times before an image of the goddess.   The mantra is chanted as follows:

Om mahalakshmyai cha vidmahe

Vishnu Patnyai cha dhimahi

Tanno Lakshmihi prachodayat.

A rather free and rough translation:

Om, let me meditate on that Great Goddess, the Goal of All Existence.

Oh, consort of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, give me great knowledge.

May Lakshmi, Goddess of True Wealth, grant increase to my meditation on Her.

Try this mantra for 3, 9, or 27 days and see if the worries do not begin to ebb.  She will speak to you throughout the day with little nudges or suggestions about how to make the situation better.  Remember to avoid attachment to action and attachment to inaction.  Just try to enter into the frame of mind imparted by the mantra and go about your daily business, leaving the results to Her.  If you enjoy this mantra practice, consider offering a simple puja (worship, literally “acquisition of merit”), including offerings of water, fire, incense, fruit, grains, and sacred substances, to Lakshmi by way of gratitude.


Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Nine

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

I am the oblations offered to the departed ancestors; I am the healing herb; I am the transcendental incantation; I am clarified cow ghee; I am the fire and I am the act of offering.  IX.16. Trans. Bhagavad-Gita Trust

Chapter nine bestows the wisdom that all things, living and non-living, take their reality from their immersion in the divine nature.  They receive their support, their continuation in existence, by partaking of the One overarching source.  But perhaps more mysteriously and miraculously, the yogi can actually access this reality, can know and commune with the Absolute.  Unfortunately, many aspirants never realize how close they might be to seeing and tasting this ultimate Reality.

In verse 16, Shri Krishna mentions some of the traditional practices that people have used from Vedic times to come into contact with God.  By making offerings before the image during puja or into the sacred fire during homa practice, the worshipper turns the sacred vessels and offerings into a means of transport, a vehicle, for reaching God.  This sounds quite insane to the person who has never made offerings before.  Usually, those unacquainted with the Sanatana Dharma will dismiss such practices (especially the ancestral ones) as outdated and superstitious.  Some yogis take up a little bit of japa (name recitation) or maybe engage in some Sanskrit study.  This is a really great way to begin and will produce benefits, but making offerings propels spiritual practice forward faster.

The image used in worship becomes the deity, the offering becomes the deity, the pujari becomes the deity.  This happens by using such simple materials as flowers and ghee, incense and chandana.  It seems impossible, but homa and puja really do work, and they are not as complicated as some people might think.  One can offer puja or homa in as little as thirty minutes, and never have so many simple instructions been available as they are now.  Simply start with a chosen divinity and find a ritual on the web.  Transliterations of Sanskrit are available for free on the web in many languages, and ritual materials are readily available in physical shops and on the web. So gather some instructions, some materials, and get started today!

This chapter should inspire us all to realize that divinity is never far from us, and in fact, is the context in which we live.  We are all like fish unaware of the ocean water around us.  All we need is a little reminder of our situation within an enveloping reality.  We don’t need to escape into a separate heavenly or eternal realm, since the Absolute fills all people, all animals, and all things.  The simple practices of the dharmic traditions provide us with a little glimpse, a little clue, into That Which Is.  Even if you only maintain this kind of insight for a second or two, it will be a great source of healing and joy, to know that the indestructible infinite resides within every atom of the universe.


Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Eight

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

One who remembers Me exclusively, even while leaving the body at the time of death, attains the Supreme Abode; there is no doubt about it.  VIII.08 Trans. Prasad.   

Philosophers East and West have recommended the contemplation of death as a pathway to wisdom.  Remembering death reminds us of the transitory nature of the body and the short amount of time that we have here on Earth.  Death reminds us of who and what we value as opposed to the myriad ways that we practice techniques of distraction in order to forget ourselves and our condition.  Remembering that we will die need not be depressing or fatalistic, since it awakens us to the fact of our present life.  And yet this verse from the Gita does not attempt to sell us on some rose-colored view of reality.  A little later in the chapter, the material sphere of existence is called, “this miserable transitory world”  (duḥkālayam, 8.15), from which it would be a great privilege to escape.

Escape from the world must not take the form of neglecting duty, as we are reminded over and over again in this classic spiritual text.  So how are we to simultaneously fulfill our duties and yet still practice the art of remembrance?  We need to offer work as worship and yet also take some time apart for yogic techniques of meditation.  The refuge of ultimate reality is available for all of those who earnestly seek it, in this life and the next.  By taking time apart to seek this hidden refuge, we can return to work in the world more refreshed, with the burden of earthly problems lessened.  Our tired bodies and minds need this occasional respite from the preoccupations of daily life.

So we can see here a process of first, doing our duty conscientiously without regard for the result, and second, taking breaks for yogic discipline to remember the supreme reality.  This becomes a positive feedback loop where meditation informs life and life informs meditation, where troubles and cares are transformed into a means of perfecting oneself.  This should be distinguished from perfectionism, which induces perpetual anxiety, since the perfection already exists in Hari, the Lord.  The perfectionist seeks to create perfection single-handedly, while the devotee knows that perfection is already there.  In an individualist metaphysics, the separate self must continually labor over and against nature, while, in the interconnected perspective of the Gita, everything is already immersed in the Supreme.

We can fulfill the teaching of this chapter by going about our business diligently and quietly, not seeking reward or credit, not creating an anxious frame of mind.  We must also take some breaks during the day to chant and meditate, so that we cultivate the habit of remembrance.  We must know that we are not guaranteed to live in this lifetime forever, but this should not provoke anxiety.  We know at all times that we are surrounded by complete fullness and perfection, and that this Reality envelops the mundane world.  By living in this knowledge, it becomes more readily apparent, and life comes to seem, well… a battle, yes,  but one in which we are completely safe.


Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Seven

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

Among thousands of men, only one may strive for success, and among those who strive thus and succeed, perhaps only one will truly know me.  7.3 Trans. Thompson

Shri Krishna here imparts a daunting idea of spiritual success, in which only one of perhaps millions of people ever come to know the Supreme being.  And yet, the one who strives has already succeeded by having made the effort in the first place.  The Vedic traditions teach that not a single deed, mental or physical, ever fails to bear fruit.  Actions may have shorter or longer maturation periods, but they all eventually lead to some result that follows from them.  The person who strives may not succeed in this lifetime, but he or she will eventually come to know the divine in a direct and personal manner, face to face.

Given the odds here, though, one might be tempted to just say that spiritual effort just doesn’t make sense.  After all, we all must prioritize and make compromises between the various things that compete for our attention.  We must make a living within the world and see to all of our duties.  What difference does it make if we realize God or not?  Such an attitude would be rational if not for the very great rewards conferred on the victors in the struggle to bring forth the divine nature.  A great prize is worth a great effort, and even the one who “fails” to realize God gains the very great honor of having made the effort in the first place.

The person who practices the least amount of devotion will have some small consolations: feelings of peace here and there, perhaps an insight into how to live in a better way.  And, in the long run, the half-hearted devotee builds a store of merit that cannot help but yield good results in the future. Imagine the good that comes to the one who practices unrestrained devotion, who puts the greatest possible energy into sadhana.  Such a person remains undeterred by the perception of a lack of results, by the apparent absence of external rewards.  Such a person conquers great difficulties and will sit at the feet of the Lord despite all hindrances.   This type of devotee does not come along very often, and we are all very fortunate to have met even one in our lifetimes.

Imagine the great responsibility and privilege that falls to those who have met many illumined souls in the course of a lifetime.  Those inclined towards spirituality may have had many profound dreams and visions, many conversations with spirits and divine beings, in addition to contacts with the illumined ones still walking the earth.  Such experiences confer the responsibility to act on the insights gained, to take the inspiration and share it with others, or at least those prepared to receive the teachings in an honorable way.  The dharma does not require us to “save” the world through conversions: it just asks us to give generously, to give more than we receive, as Swamiji always says.  As we give more and more, the inspiration comes in a stronger way, which then increases the giving, and so forth.

Suppose we fall into the vast majority of those who try to realize God in this lifetime and do not.  We are about to celebrate Diwali and make puja or homa to Shri Lakshmi.  Her name is derived from laksha, the goal or mark at which to aim.  The lamps that we light stand for inner illumination, the sat-chit-ananda, the being-consciousness-bliss otherwise known as moksha or liberation that is the goal of life.  An archer may miss the target, but the one who comes closest to the center is the most esteemed.  The one who lands firmly in the center receives the prize.  By no means should we fail to compete out of fear that we should miss the mark.  The only real way to lose is to make no effort at all.


Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Six

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

Whoever sees me everywhere and and sees everything in me will never be separated from me, nor will I be separated from him.  The yogin who is aware of the oneness of life is devoted to me, the one who dwells in all beings.  Wherever he happens to find himself, he remains within me.  5.31.  Trans. George Thompson.

This verse expresses a teaching that can be difficult for religious people, especially those unfamiliar with mysticism, especially those trained in Western metaphysics.  We are so used to thinking of the bounded categories of animal, vegetable, and mineral, so used to thinking in terms of separate entities, the “billiard ball” model of the universe in which separate particles collide to make up reality.  We think society is composed of autonomous individuals or that people are fundamentally different from animals and certainly plants.  But Krishna here expresses an idea of fundamental unity, that all things exist in him.

And this is the secret, apparently, to maintaining a sense of unity with the divine.  We can get caught in the trap of thinking we can only pray in the temple or before the home shrine.  We long so much for the deva loka that we don’t recognize it right in front of our faces, in a co-worker’s face, in the tree outside the window, in the form of a stray dog.  But then that is the divine play, the magic of maya that makes us forget what we know in our hearts.  And that, too, the forgetting, the loss of insight, is another aspect, another manifestation of the divine.  For some inscrutable reason which cannot be fathomed through reasoning, we are playing one giant game of hide and seek with God.

One second of seeing God makes up for a thousand tedious days.  A moment of clarity can make months of confusion worthwhile.  Why we have been drafted into this game, we do not know.  But it is well worth the effort to play and play well.  Those of us exerting spiritual effort have come to believe that the time is short, that perhaps this lifetime will be the last.  We cannot afford to fall back into the same old complacency, to live in the mindset of “another day and another dollar.” We have to re-capture a sense of urgency, a sense of longing.  This is what the bhakti movement is all about, and it is also an important part of the iconography of the gods.

Many of the gods (Vishnu included) are depicted with a wheel or chakra spinning on one finger, the wheel of time.  Time, then, is one of the weapons of divinity, one of the ways to slay the demons of bad thoughts like boredom and apathy.  So there is always more time, and yet every moment will have the same past-present-future structure as this one.  And all of those moments are suffused in the eternal, the not-time that is God.   When we do the practices that lead to liberation, we make time work for us instead of against us.  We make it more likely that we will be able to Realize in the future.  We make it easier to see the eternal in the midst of the mundane.  But it takes real effort to not discount the apparent tedium before us, to see beyond the surfaces and into the true nature of things.

Maybe you are reading this in a plastic chair in the waiting room of a bus terminal, or maybe you are stealing a few minutes on your lunch break at work.  Maybe you stumbled onto this page by accident and are about to text a friend.  Whether you are meditating in a Himalayan cave or walking the streets of Las Vegas, an infinite mystery waits for you.  You are divine.  All beings are divine.  All things are divine.  A very thin and fragile veil hides this Reality from view.  Exert yourself through meditation, and you will see the truth.


Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Five

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

“I who am not doing anything,” he should think to himself, the man who is disciplined in yoga, and who knows the true nature of things.  Meanwhile, he sees, he hears, he touches, he smells, he eats, he talks, he goes, he sleeps, he breathes, he talks, he relieves himself, he takes with his hands, he opens his eyes, he closes his eyes–but always he holds firm to the thought, “This is merely the senses interacting with sense objects.”  5.8-9  Trans.  George Thompson

Here Shri Krishna unfolds a sublime doctrine, one extremely simple and yet difficult as well.  This discipline which the fifth chapter discusses is a way of acting without fixating on the act, a pure kind of doing without internal commentary.  Sometimes this is called acting without regard to the fruits of action.  Sometimes it is called renunciation.  Sometimes it is called dispassion, discrimination, or equanimity.  One can get a glimpse of this way of acting by reading the Gita meditatively, but it only really hits home by trying to live in this manner.

In order to enter this state of mind, begin with meditation, whatever practice you already do.  Krishna approves of the homa fire explicitly and other practices of yoga, such as pranayama and asanas.  He also mentions seated meditation and concentrating on the ajna chakra between the eyes.  Many pathways lead to the state of concentration as a kind of foundation for action in the world.  This passage suggests that ultimately one will be able to move about freely in the world without the attachment of negative karmas.  This happens once the yogi no longer regards him or herself as the doer, seeing the physical body and the limited mind as impersonal manifestations of natural processes.  Once the foundation has been established through formal, traditional practices, it will be easier throughout the day to let go of thoughts of ownership and possession.

Notice that this practice applies equally to pleasant and unpleasant thought processes.  Whether my sense of self-esteem is high or low, whether I grumble and complain or stop and smell the roses, I must detach from the thought that there is an “I” who experiences all of this.  I must let the ego dissolve into the flux of the processes that constitute it, and then I can become one with the surround.  Oneness can be a complicated, metaphysical word, but it really just means fully engaging in the deed, whether that deed is performing puja or paying bills.  It means letting go of the endless interpretations, letting go of the internal dialogue about whether I am doing well or doing badly, whether I have accomplished enough or need to do more.

Undoubtedly, I will lose concentration many times in the course of the day and will engage in needless speculation.  I will congratulate myself for something or castigate myself for something.  I will imagine conversations that have yet to take place and think of how to put myself at an advantage.  Then I have to think back to the foundation and to the verses of the Gita.  Maybe a line of nama recitation will come to me as a kind of rescue.  Maybe I just say, “Jai Shri Krishna” or, “Jaya Ganesha.”  Or maybe I say something like, “Let go,” or, “peace.”  But most importantly, I try again.  And the struggle continues, but the Lord assures us that each tiny effort will be rewarded in this life or the next.

Think about taking a bath.  I must bathe myself each day if I don’t want to have body odor.  I can’t call my neighbor and say, “Hey, I am smelling kind of bad, can you take a bath for me?”  So in the dharma traditions, there is no vicarious atonement.  We all have to take up the practices that lead to liberation.  The saints and sages have shown the way, but we all must walk in it.  There is no once-and-for-all salvation, but there are many small salvations.  I can think about how to “save” this minute, this hour, this day.  I can think about how to live peacefully today.  And in that way, I can stop thinking about heaven after death and start thinking about heaven here on earth.  If I should need more time to work towards liberation, it is there for me.  But I should start right now, with this inhalation, with this next step, with the next word to come out of my mouth.  Aum, shanti, shanti, shanti.



Mahalakshmi Homa


Janyananda will be conducting Mahalakshmi Homa at the University of South Carolina, Aiken, on Friday, November 22nd.  More details to follow.  If you would like to help sponsor the ceremony, please use the donate link.  A $5.00 donation via paypal will cover a pound of organic butter to be clarified for ghee offering.  If you live in the Aiken-Augusta area and can donate kindling or firewood, please let us know. You can use this form or subscribe to the newsletter on the main page so that we have your information.