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Oh, Brother! (or, Light On Siblings) November 16, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.

[“Happy Diwali!” to anyone celebrating! May you be healthy, wealthy, and wise!]

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“Yama said: ‘The good is one thing; the pleasant, another. Both of these, serving different needs, bind a man. It goes well with him who, of the two, takes the good; but he who chooses the pleasant misses the end.’

‘Both the good and the pleasant present themselves to a man. The calm soul examines them well and discriminates. Yea, he prefers the good to the pleasant; but the fool chooses the pleasant out of greed and avarice.’”

– quoted from Katha Upanishad (Part I – Chapter II, Verses 1-2) translated by Swami Nikhilananda

The final day of Diwali, the 5-day festival of light celebrated throughout India, Southeast Asia, and the diaspora, is a day devoted to siblings – specifically the bond between sisters and brothers. Sisters, who celebrate today in this way, may give a puja (“offering” and prayers) on behalf of their brothers – that their brothers may enjoy a long, healthy, and happy life – and then will host a dinner in honor of their brothers. But, it’s not just a matter of creating a feast with their brothers’ favorite food. No, in some traditions, a sister will hand feed their brothers. (Yet another tradition when people will have to be creative in order to observe this year.)

I have two brothers, with whom I have very different relationships, and while I never wish either of them harm, it is sometimes a lot easier to wish the best for the one that is my favorite. (To be fair, my favorite is also my other brother’s favorite sibling). But, having “a favorite” kind of flies in the face of much of Yoga and Buddhist philosophy. It creates and perpetuates suffering. While others with siblings might say, “Yeah, but it’s human,” my relationships with my brothers makes me wonder how this final day of Diwali became associated with siblings. What, after all, do brothers and sisters have to do with light symbolically overcoming anything?

“Yama said: ‘The goal which all the Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at and which men desire when they lead the life of continence, I will tell you briefly: it is Om.’”

– quoted from Katha Upanishad (Part I – Chapter II, Verse 15) translated by Swami Nikhilananda

There are actually a couple of different brother-sister stories associated with this final day of Diwali. One, in particular, resonates with me because the brother and sister have a difference in opinion that causes a great deal of strife. While I can’t really relate to the subject of their argument, I can definitely relate to the feeling of being at odds with one’s brother.

According to the legends, Yami (also known as Yamuna) and Yama are twins, born to Sūrya (the Sun) and his wife Sandhya. If, like me, you’re familiar with another set of twins in Indian mythology – Nara and Nārāyaņa, who are identical except that one is in a physical-corporal body and one is in a spiritual-energetic body – then you might be expecting a twist. Of course, in the case of Yami and Yama the twist is a doozy. You see, in  the 10th hymn in the 10th book of the Rigveda the twins have a falling out because Yami wants to marry her brother, but Yama points out that not only is incest forbidden – there are health-related reasons behind it being forbidden.

Health and well-being are underlying elements throughout Diwali. Part of the focus on health comes from the fact that Lakşmī, the goddess of joy, prosperity, and wealth, is also the goddess of fertility. More importantly, however, she shares a birthday – the first day of Diwali – with Dhanvantari, the god of medicine (Aryuveda). In my mind, the fact that they both rise from the churning of the primordial “Ocean of Milk” on Dhanteras makes them energetic siblings (at the very least).

“Within the Waters – Soma thus hath told me-dwell all balms that heal,
And Agni, he who blesseth all.
O Waters, teem with medicine to keep my body safe from harm,
So that I long may see the Sun.
Whatever sin is found in me, whatever evil I have wrought,
If I have lied or falsely sworn, Waters, remove it far from me.
The Waters I this day have sought, and to their moisture have we come:
O Agni, rich in milk, come thou, and with thy splendour cover me.”

– quoted from Rigveda (Book 10, Hymn 9. 6-9) translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith

Remember, also, that Yama is “Death” and appears in an earlier Diwali story about a young prince and his very clever wife. Even though “Death” is conquered in that story – and even though 2020 is a year where I can’t blame anyone for vilifying death – Yama is not always portrayed as evil incarnate. Everything changes, everything ends. The problem is not the end – as it is also a beginning; the problem is how we deal with the end of something. How we let go of something that isn’t going our way or ends before we are ready for it to end.

According to the legend, Yama is the first mortal to die and so becomes the ruler of death (as well as dharma, South, and the underworld). His twin, Yami, does not handle his death well. In fact, she seems to be on a never ending downward spiral of grief, because (to her) her brother (and the love of her life) just died. At this point in the story, night (darkness) is created so that Yami can experience the passage of time and, therefore, the healing that comes from the passage of time.

“Yes I understand
That every life must end
As we sit alone
I know someday we must go

Oh, I’m a lucky man
To count on both hands
The ones I love
Some folks just have one
Yeah, others they got none

Stay with me
Let’s just breathe”

 – quoted from “Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

“‘The knowing Self is not born; It does not die. It has not sprung from anything; nothing has sprung from It. Birthless, eternal, everlasting and ancient, It is not killed when the body is killed.’

‘Atman, smaller than the small, greater than the great, is hidden in the hearts of all living creatures. A man who is free from desires beholds the majesty of the Self through tranquility of the senses and the mind and becomes free from grief.’”

– quoted from Katha Upanishad (Part I – Chapter II, Verses 18 & 20) translated by Swami Nikhilananda

### OM OM AUM ###


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