Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In defense of solar eclipse traditions

Following the solar eclipse last week, there was a loud hullabaloo in newspapers and other media bemoaning how "superstition" still keeps most people indoors, following certain time-honoured observances. Most young people consider it fashionable and cool to roundly denounce traditions followed by the "ignorant" masses, and seem to get a kick out of going against the custom themselves. They are presumably operating from their own belief in a rational science that limits a human being to just the body and the senses, forgetting, as Shakespeare said, that "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

The sun, the moon, the earth, and you and me are not "undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone" objects but are a part of a huge symphony of oneness, all sharing the same essence, and thus acting and reacting on each other. Even science now knows that the phases of the moon influence the tides and the rising of sap in trees and plants. It is well-known that on new moon and full moon days insane people tend to act more insane and there is a rise in the number of traffic accidents. As John Muir says, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." Everything is connected - as without, so within. As above, so below. How then can a solar eclipse, such a grand event in the heavens, not fail to have an influence on human beings?

From what I have heard and read and gathered over the years, the basic theory is that the sun corresponds to the Intellect (Buddhi) in human beings which includes the higher faculties of conscience and discrimination and intuition, and the moon corresponds to the mind (Manas). The Vedas state that the moon is the presiding deity of the mind - Chandramaa Manaso Jaathaha - "Out of the mind of the Purusha (Godhead), the moon was born." There is a close affinity between the mind and the moon; both are subject to decline and progress.

In a solar eclipse, the moon temporarily obscures the sun. The corresponding influence on humans is that the mind obscures or tends to get the upperhand over the intellect during the time, which could lead to misjudgements and mistakes. This premise probably explains the eclipse regulations and do's and dont's prescribed by the sages in scriptures like the Devi Bhagwatha Purana and Skanda Purana. Eclipses are also supposed to be power points of energy transformation very similar to the energy experienced at the cardinal points of the day, dawn/sunrise/noon/sunset, and are thus fertile times to make faster and deeper progress in spiritual disciplines like meditation. This is why, based on the regulations in the shastras, orthodox people and spiritual aspirants spend the time indoors, fasting and in prayer. Would you call this "superstition"? Superstition is defined as a credulous belief or notion, not based on reason, knowledge, or experience. I would say that a condescending dismissal of such ancient practices because of one's own limited awareness is more of a superstition than the other.

Of course, over time there have grown around this topic a lot of foolish fears and misrepresentations and urban legends that only serve to make the confusion worse compounded. Outer phenomena is only the symbol of the inner reality and processes to which we must pay attention. Baba talked about this in a Discourse during a Birthday that happened to fall on a solar eclipse day: "This day, there is a Solar eclipse and many people wondered whether the Birthday festival would be celebrated or postponed. The moon obscuring the sun is not the calamity that people should fear; the shadow of maaya falling upon the intelligence is the eclipse that has to be treated as a bad omen, as inauspicious. The mind is the moon, the intelligence is the sun; see that they do not suffer from eclipse. Then, you are safe. Do not worry when something happens in the outer sky; worry when the shadow of some dark desire, some foul passion, some monstrous emotion, some fell intention casts its evil gloom over your inner sky. See that the splendour of the Lord, the cool rays of His Grace are not dimmed in the recesses of your heart."

We may choose the follow tradition if we are so inclined, or we may choose to disregard it, but it behooves us at all times to respect the faith and choices of others and be aware in all humility that what we consider reality is only the tip of the iceberg.