No serious person in the modern world really believes that rocks are conscious. There are a few exceptions which we’ll come to in a moment.
Watching the TV series, The Universe, being shown on the H2 channel, one can absorb fascinating facts. Underneath the vast atmosphere of Jupiter, for example, lies an ocean – not an ordinary ocean, but an ocean of hydrogen that is brighter than the sun and intensely blue, also hotter than the surface of the sun.
In between the planets of the solar system lie immensely vast spaces, so large as to be incomprehensible – and far vaster distances separate the galaxies from each other. The universe is expanding. Not only is it expanding, but the rate of expansion, counter-intuitively, is speeding up, not slowing down. Our galaxy is zooming at an ever increasing rate of speed away from all other galaxies. Eventually they will be so distant that we will no longer see them. All light will go out, and the universe will come to a cold, dark end. Or so science tells us – unless we accept another theory, that the universe will collapse in on itself to end in a great crunch, and then expand outwards again.
In short, “modern science” presents us with what may seem to be a picture of the universe that is cold, dark, lonely, pointless, and doomed (albeit with flashes of the spectacular and dramatic, but doomed nonetheless).
Is it possible though that this is not so much a depiction of actual reality, as it is a reflection of the dysfunctional human psyche of the modern world — a condition towards which we have devolved over the past few thousand years? After all, is it impossible that the state of our collective psyche might color our collective perception of external reality? Just a thought.
So we are told that, in the midst of this desert of lifelessness called the universe, are tiny islands of awareness, we humans – and today, many scientists accept the concept that there may be alien life forms on other planets, who have evolved other civilizations. We may or may not ever be able to contact them, and if or when we do, we may find them to be either friendly or hostile. Or they may be all around us all the time in other dimensions, who knows?
As for the animals that share the earth with us, most humans, whether fond of animals or not, assume that they are a lower life form, and somewhat less important than ourselves. When wildlife biologists talk about the populations of birds increasing or decreasing, an individual bird with her own life and awareness, does not rank very high in the scheme of things as we see it from our human perspective. We do tend to care about species that teeter on the verge of extinction, especially the large charismatic ones, the tigers or the elephants, but the odd orange beetle or the obscure blue butterfly doesn’t really catch our attention.
As for plants, people who feel an affection for trees are generally considered quite odd. Though, on the other hand, when tall, old beautiful trees that line city streets are cut down one day by an insensitive city planner, the level of public outcry can be deafening.
In December, 2015, Nguyen The Thao, the head of the Hanoi People’s Committee, in Vietnam, was forced to step down following public outrage over his plan to cut down 6,000 famous, ancient trees lining the streets of the capitol. There have been similar incidents of public rage over felling trees in the U.S. and worldwide.
In the year 1730, the Bishnois, in India, often called the world’s first environmentalists, sacrificed their lives to protect the beloved trees of their village. The king had sent his soldiers to fell the trees to make way for a temple he was building. One by one, the people of the village stood between the soldiers and the trees, and one by one, they were killed defending their trees. Eventually, at the end of the day, the king arrived. Witnessing the numbers of people lying dead, he relented and ordered his soldiers to stop. By this time 363 brave men and women had heroically given their lives to protect their forest. To this day, the Bishnois, in northern India, are known for protecting trees and animals.
Where does this leave us? Well, basically, apart from a few “tree-huggers” and a much larger and growing number of animal activists, the predominant worldview – particularly in academic or scientific circles – is still that humans are important – and anything else may be moderately important in relation only to humans.
The planet Mars may be important because after we have destroyed the earth we live on, we may be able to colonize Mars by terra-forming it and making it suitable for us to live on. This seems to be an official view of NASA and a goal of space exploration.
On October 9, 2009, NASA bombed the moon by sending two rockets crashing into the moon’s south pole. The intent was for the impact to throw up clouds of debris in which water might be found. In terms of planning a future base on the moon, water would be very useful.
To all ancient peoples on the earth the moon is a divine, sacred being and bombing her is a sacrilegious act. NASA scientists and engineers did not seem troubled by this.
The ancient Mesopotamians worshipped Sin as the moon god. The Japanese called him Tsukyyomi. The ancient Egyptian god, Thoth, was a lunar deity. The Mayans revered Awilix as the goddess of the moon, although she was sometimes referred to as male. The Micmacs, a Canadian, Algonquian tribe, say that the dark spots on the moon are spots of clay left there when rabbit had caught the moon in a trap, then was forced to release him when the moon threatened him. Many Asian peoples see a rabbit in the moon, rather than a “man in the moon.” It seems that all neolithic and paleolithic peoples worshipped the moon, the sun, and the planets, seeing them as divine beings. One can find traces of this ancient worship today in living religions.
Of course, these days we all know better and do not believe such nonsense – or do we? How exactly has science been able to prove that the moon, the sun, the planets, and the galaxies are inert, unconscious, entirely physical, and totally non-spiritual beings that have absolutely not a grain of consciousness among them? Have you seen any proof of this? You haven’t, and neither have I. This assumption of a lack of consciousness on the part of heavenly beings is just exactly that – an assumption, nothing more.
There is simply nothing “scientific” about the assertion that only humans and maybe higher animals have consciousness.
All the world’s ancient systems of knowledge maintained the opposite – that indeed the great beings of the night skies are conscious and aware, that they have a real power and an identity, that they are beings, not things.
In Tamil Nadu, in southern India, at Thiruvannamalai, there is a mountain named Arunachala. The mountain has been worshipped as sacred for thousands of years and is said to be Lord Shiva. It is not that Lord Shiva lives within the mountain, but instead Lord Shiva is the mountain.
In Australia, a massive, one thousand foot high rock, rising straight up out of the plains in the central part of the country is called Uluru, and is known to the native peoples as a sacred mountain – which has been there since the dreamtime. To them, reality is a dream, and the ancient perceptions of their ancestors represented a higher, truer form of reality. Who is to say that they are wrong?
Inyan Kara is the highest peak of the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. To the Lakota Sioux and other nearby native peoples, all the Black Hills were sacred and were the home of the thunder gods and the Great Spirit. The destruction of these hills to create the Mount Rushmore carvings is seen by them as the desecration of a holy place.
It is difficult, even for modern humans, not to feel awestruck in the majestic presence of towering stone cliffs – or sometimes even in the presence of small little rocks that seem to invoke some special presence, that may seem to “speak.”
From where do we gather the impression that these are not great beings, when our instincts tell us that indeed they are sacred beings? Being sacred, are they not also conscious, are they not gods or goddesses? Is not the earth itself a living, sacred being – mother to all of us? There is a voice within us that calls to us to acknowledge and feel a sense of reverence towards these ancient ones – these great rock entities worshipped the world over by our ancestors, these rocks and mountains who perhaps know far more, with a knowledge and perception deeper and more profound, than we small humans could ever imagine or have any grasp of.
On Wednesday February 25, 2015, a team from ESAF set off for Port Said, which lies in the north of Egypt on the coast, just where the Suez Canal enters the Mediterranean.
Their first stop was the government veterinary clinic to do TNR for cats. Many local people brought their cats to be spayed/neutered, which the vets did, although the primary purpose of the program was to do surgery for street cats.
Next they paid a visit to the zabalin community, who are traditionally garbage collectors. It is a poor neighborhood. They found many animals there, and most looked well cared for. They gave a vaccine card to all patients’ owners, and also handed out fly masks and nose bands, which will make the working animals more comfortable.
The vets treated the teeth and hooves of a steady stream of horses, donkeys, goats, sheep and cows, all brought for treatment.
Three ESAF board members came along, volunteering their help; Mohamed Mamdouh, Riham Hassan, Jackie Sherbiny.
The veterinary team, Dr Ahmed , Dr Eman, Dr Lamis, along with assistants Mohamed Ibrahim and Mohamed Hassan, did a terrific job and were a great help to the animals.
The work in the zabalin neighborhood was sponsored by Animal Aid Abroad, and ESAF hopes to be able to continue their work here every two weeks for an extended period.
Animal Aid Abroad supports projects to help working animals in several countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
To visit the website of Animal Aid Abroad, click here.
Susan Boyle came from a humble background in Scotland; her father was a miner and her mother a typist. Until her mother died she lived with her, and she now lives with her beloved cat.
For years she struggled to achieve some success with her music. Recently, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s Disease, which could explain why her social relationships had always been awkward. Most of her life she had been been subjected to ridicule, and must have endured many unhappy and very trying times — until that one evening, in which, like a rocket leaving the bounds of earth, she shot into stardom.
Illustrating how not to be a victim — Susan Boyle’s is a rags-to-riches story, which, in its own way, is a testimony to the great power of not allowing oneself to remain victimized, but instead, with the help of the angels, of magically overcoming obstacles. It is a simple story – she has not transformed the entire world, but it is a remarkable one, and has certainly altered her own life and touched the lives of many others.
Her strength is not only her musical talent itself, but her undying faith in her music.
None of us has to remain stuck in the box that we find ourselves in.
The second example of rising above limitations is Nelson Mandela. A figure on an altogether different scale, he was one of the great men of history, who had a transformative impact on our world. Though he came from a tribal royal family, as a boy, he herded sheep, then became a boxer, then a lawyer. When he was imprisoned for 27 years, spending part of the time breaking rocks in a quarry, it must have seemed to him, that there could be no hope even for his own freedom, let alone hope for any success in his life.
If he had emerged from prison, embittered, to lead his people on a crusade to make his oppressors pay for their crimes, that would hardly have been a surprising turn. Yet he didn’t. Somewhere he found the grace and wisdom to forgive his captors and to lead South Africa beyond the threat of a bloodbath, into the light, to stand as a democratic nation. In the process, he spared the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and avoided a prolonged time of darkness for generations of South Africans. South Africa is not a perfect country. No country is, but it has avoided these catastrophes, thanks to the wisdom and greatness Nelson Mandela.
Neither of these two people, very different from each other in their scope and their impact, is a saint. They are examples of people who did not allow themselves to remain victims, but instead, with the grace of the angels, overcame and rose above obstacles.
We do not have to be victimized by our circumstances, sinking under the weight of our situation, and blaming heaven, the stars, or those around us for the obstacles in our lives.
There is always a higher level, where God, the Gods, the angels, the universe (or whatever we wish to call the spiritual level) live — and it is from this level that strength can be drawn and magic and miracles can come into being.
To return to the concept of the myth of progress – it would be a great mistake to confuse this higher level of otherworldly strength, inspiration, and clarity, which occasionally breaks through the clouds, with the current, ongoing state of the human world in which we live.
Were we to put our faith in the “human spirit” or in the “inevitability” of human progress and the advance of human technology, we would find ourselves sadly misled. We ought not to sit waiting for the train of human “progress” to carry us along to utopia, because it won’t.
Many of us, probably most of us, have seen miracles happen – of one kind or another. Miracles are very real. They come from beyond and above the level of this world.
The world does not get better by itself, and, sadly, human nature does not make it better. There is no inevitable progress of the “human spirit.” We are not the culmination of evolution, and we have not, in creating the “wonders of civilization” brought peace and enlightenment even to ourselves, much less to animals and the natural world. Instead we have left a trail of destruction in our wake. And the natural world seems to be reminding us of this regrettable fact through rising tides, catastrophic storms, and other upheavals.
Yet all is not lost, and if – beyond the smoke and mirrors of the image we have fabricated, as a species, of our own success – this is, in truth, a dark hour and a dark age, there is still a real light at the end of the tunnel.
Consider this – a curtain is being lifted that had long veiled the past. All over the world are being found now, in recent decades, remarkable archeological discoveries that speak to us of great civilizations, with magnificent art and culture, that we did not even know existed, and some are many thousands of years earlier than the accepted dates for the beginnings of civilization. (We will be writing more about these.)
The cyclical view of history informs us that this age of limitations that we live in is neither the only age nor the last age.
There is much, much more to the Cosmos than we know – other levels, other dimensions — more to the past and more to the future.
Our “modern world” is not the pinnacle of creation, it has an ocean of problems. But as we come to acknowledge this, there are great gates that swing open – to the magnificence and mysteries of the very distant past – and to the possibilities of magic and miracles, both in our own lives and in the world ages that lie before us – possibilities of nearly-forgotten connections with higher mystical levels and the restoration and renewal of the natural world of innocence that we have so nearly destroyed.
As our current world age dims, other lights of intelligence, perception, and clarity—those, older and wiser, who were here before — will re-awaken and shine again.
The thoughts expressed here are personal views that do not reflect or represent those of any organization.
To look at Sharon’s ebook, Glimpses of Kanchi, on Amazon, click here.
Top photo: Wikimedia Commons: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Laura SA at the English language Wikipedia / Mapungubwe Hill, a sacred hill in the Kingdom of Mapungubwe in pre-colonial South Africa.
Second photo: As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain. / President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela at the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA, July 4 1993.
Third photo: Author (photographer): Teomancimit / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / The 12,000 year old megalithic ruins of Gobekli Tepe, Urfa, Turkey.
Fourth photo: “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted.” / This stellar swarm is M80 (NGC 6093), one of the densest of the 147 known globular star clusters in the Milky Way galaxy…all of the stars in the cluster have the same age (about 15 billion years)….
Hundreds of years ago, if you had lived in a small village in central Africa, before its “discovery” by Europeans, you might have lived in a thatched roof hut that kept out the sun and the rain, with a dirt floor that was swept clean every day. From birth to death, you would have lived in a stable community of your friends and relatives, in a society where you belonged and had a place, where there was work to be done, as well as a rich tradition of art, music, and a spiritual life. If you were walking through the forest, and you felt thirsty, it would have been entirely safe to drink from the clear, sparkling waters of a stream. Although you would not have had what we would call luxury, you would have known a world of trees, sky, animals, and the early morning mist that floated over the river where the elephants gathered. You would have lived in the untouched beauty of the natural world.
If you became ill, you would have been treated with herbal remedies, their efficacy tested by being passed down through generations. If you were dying, your village would have gathered around you, singing prayers for you, as your soul left to go on its journey.
At that time, back then, there were no GMO crops or insecticide-laden foods, no miles and miles of plastic trash, no debris littering the ocean floor, no smog-choked cities, no factory farms, no miles of concrete where once there had been forests filled with wild animals, no industrial waste, no nuclear waste, no trash on the moon or in outer space. Yes, horrible things could and did happen, then as now, but it could be argued, nonetheless, that the scale of horror was much less then, than it is today.
Certainly, very bad things could take place. It would have been possible to be eaten by an animal — though a lion at that time, living in a more undisturbed habitat, might have been less likely then, than now, to attack a human. Still being eaten would not have been pleasant.
But which is worse really, to be eaten quickly by a lion in the darkness of the night, or to be eaten piecemeal over many decades by human greed, hypocrisy, mediocrity, corruption, and the soul-destroying nibbles that kill off all life and destroy the natural world?
If we look closely, with open eyes, we will be able to see quite clearly that the modern world, for most people and for most animals, for the trees, and the earth itself is suffering, on an unprecedented scale. In our climate-controlled houses and apartments, we live in a bubble, wrapped up in our technology, yet still cut off from many realities of much of the world.
Nevermind that we as a society have gone to the moon and back – is our civilization peaceful, enlightened, kind, gracious? No, it really isn’t.
We tend to resist this imperfect view of history. We cling to the view we were taught in school. After all, there is something comforting in imagining that we are at the summit of human existence and that everything has led steadily upwards, culminating in the grandeur that is us.
So, if perhaps we have realized that we are not quite as grand as we had imagined, if we have begun to suspect that we, as the human race, are all slipping and sliding inexorably downhill, in this corrupt and miserable current age, does that mean that all is hopeless? Should we give up trying to do anything meaningful? Should we just sit down under a tree, hold our head in our hands, and accept the fact that we are doomed?
Should we just forget any causes that we’re devoting our life to – any more meaningful purpose, like freeing people from oppression, saving innocent animals from suffering, or saving the forests and the earth’s wild places?
Should we just decide that everything is impossible and give up?
No, because however dark the world may be, magic and miracles are always possible because, by definition, they come from a higher level that is not bound by human limitations.
A couple of contemporary examples might help. I’m reminded of a couple of people who have not been content to stay put in the boxes the found themselves in. They are completely different from each other. Here is the first one.
If you haven’t done so already, it’s worth watching Susan Boyle on YouTube when she appeared in 2009 on Britain’s Got Talent. It’s worth watching just to see the expressions of the judges on the show change from bored condescension to joyful astonishment. It was clear that the contestant on the stage in front of them, Susan Boyle, at that first appearance, had not the slightest idea how to present herself well, and the three judges were ready to dismiss her as a silly, ridiculous figure – until she began to sing, at which point they opened their mouths and raised their eyebrows in incredulity. Before she had finished singing, these rather jaded judges sprang to their feet, along with the entire audience, all applauding, one judge, Piers Morgan, stating that this was the greatest surprise in all his time with the show.
Her immensely powerful and profoundly expressive, beautiful voice seemed to spring from another realm that had nothing to do with her awkward appearance. Within the next nine days after the show, her videos had been viewed over 100 million times. Her debut album was a record-breaking success, and she has soared to stardom since then and is a multimillionaire many times over.
Top photo: “This work has been released into the public domain by its author, WaynaQhapaq at the English Wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.” / Wikimedia commons / “Yoruba bronze head from the city of Ife, 12 century.”
Second photo: Author (photographer): Kevin Pluck / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / A lion in Namibia.
Third photo: Author (photographer): Jessie Eastland / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / Wikimedia Commons / “Western Moon setting over Mountains, High Desert, California.”
Fourth photo: Author (photographer): Wasforgas / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / “Susan Boyle singing at the Edinburgh Festival Theater, July 12, 2013.”
It’s not that there’s no such thing as progress. Indeed there is.
If I want to travel around the world, I’ll take a plane. I won’t set out walking, or take a sailing ship, or sit by the roadside waiting for a magic carpet to appear out of the clouds.
If I fall down the stairs and break a leg, I will go to the hospital because waiting for it to get better by itself is not going to work well.
If I want to go into town I will use a car, not a horse and buggy.
All this being said, there is a very large aspect of the way we think about progress in the modern world that is illusory. It is not true.
Really, there are two ways of viewing history — the cyclical view and the linear view.
In the cyclical view, there are several ages, following each other, until eventually, the whole complete world cycle ends and begins anew.
If we’ve grown up in the west or if we’ve been heavily influenced by western culture, then we are going to lean towards the linear view of world history. It’s imprinted inside our heads, and, without our being conscious of it, it colors most of our perceptions and expectations.
According to the western worldview, history is linear. First there is prehistory and then there is an ascending line on an upwards trajectory, which is called “progress.” It is a basic part of our thinking. If we look far enough back into the past, we see hunter/gatherers, the introduction of farming, the invention of the wheel, the beginnings of civilization. Pretty soon along come the Greeks and the Romans. Then there are the middle ages, the renaissance, the industrial revolution, then along come lots of inventions, like central heating, TV, computers, and sending a man to the moon. (As you can see, this is all very Eurocentric.) It all goes upward and ever upward, as we humans progress to higher levels of technology and “better” lives.
But this is not the only way to view the past and the present. For many cultures throughout the world, there has traditionally been another model of history. In India, and also among many other peoples, including Native Americans in both North and South America, history has been seen as cyclical. Even the Greeks and the Romans believed in a succession of ages, and there is a reference to this view also in the Bible, in the Book of Daniel.
One of the key differences between these two views is that, from the cyclical worldview, “progress” isn’t necessarily progress, and our “inevitable” evolution upwards to grander and grander heights is very much in doubt.
In other word, things may not inevitably be getting better and better, and our common sense tends to agree with this observation. It may be that, all this time, the human race has been de-volving instead of e-volving.
Let’s look at it this way for a moment. There is a good chance, since you are reading this, that you live a fairly comfortable existence. This is not necessarily true, and there can be exceptions, but most likely, you are not living in a hut made of old tires and rusty hubcaps, on the banks of what used to be a river, but is now a creek filled with garbage. Instead, you have a nice home. In your home there is most likely central heating, air conditioning, a TV, computers – it is a place with modern conveniences.
We enjoy our central heating because it keeps us warm, and we wouldn’t have been happy in the European middle ages, where even aristocrats lived in cold castles – and peasants lived in squalid huts. We may say to ourselves that whatever view of history may be true (and whatever personal problems we might currently have), things are far better now in the modern world than they used to be hundreds of years ago. If we say this, then what we are expressing is a western/modern perspective; and whatever country we may live in, this is a middle or upper class view.
Suppose for a moment that instead of being you or me, living in our comfortable surroundings, we are a poor child in a developing country who lives on a giant mound of garbage which she picks through from morning to night to make a few cents a day. Suppose we are one of the billions of people who have no clean water to drink. Or one of the billions who live in horrible slums. Suppose we live in a war-torn region of central Africa, where there is hardly even a memory of any security or safety?
You and I are exceptions, and though we all do have our own problems and difficulties, (which may from time to time seem insurmountable), generally speaking, we are blessed to live in fairly decent or even very comfortable circumstances.
This means that, unless we stop to think and look around us, we may not notice that most people in the world live in conditions far worse than they would have lived in hundreds or thousands of years ago. Is it really true that the average person in the world is better off now? No, it really isn’t.
If we had lived around the year 2300 BCE in the city of Mohenjo Daro, part of the ancient Indian Indus Valley civilization, now in modern Pakistan, we might well have lived in a two story house, with a plumbing system, a furnace, and an inner courtyard lined with trees. We would have lived in clean, comfortable surroundings in a well-designed, beautiful city.
If we had lived around 1500 BCE in the Minoan city Knossos on the island of Crete, we would have lived in a city that delivered clean water through pipes into the homes of around 100,000 people and had an advanced plumbing and sewage system. We would have been surrounded by a vibrant culture that produced beautiful art, which can still be seen in murals on the walls of Knossos.
I can hear a voice saying, but wait – these two examples are not typical! Okay, that may be true; if these two advanced societies might be considered exceptions on the world stage, then what about life in a tribal society?
Top photo: Author (artist): Viktor M. Vasnetsov (1848–1926) / Wikimedia Commons /”This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. Such reproductions are in the public domain in the United States.”
Second photo: “This work has been released into the public domain by its author, JW1805 at the wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.” / Wikimedia Commons / A bust of Homer in the British Museum, London.
Third photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 1.0 License.” / Original uploader was M.Imran at en.wikipedia / The great bath at Mohenjo Daro.
Without the leadership of Nelson Mandela, there is no doubt that South Africa would have descended into chaos. He turned the looming prospect of turmoil and upheaval into a beacon of light for the nations.
The amazing courage he exemplified in his lifetime, together with his great spirit, which enabled him to embrace his enemies — made him one of the greatest men in history — leading the way forward to peace and justice.
He was born into a tribal royal family, but spent his early years tending sheep in the hills. He became a boxer, then a lawyer.
He started the armed wing of the ANC, launching a course of armed struggle. He spent 27 years in brutal prisonment.
Upon his release from prison, he set South Africa not on a course of vengeance, but instead on a course of reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation hearings that he initiated allowed the truth of profound injustice to be exposed, and to be followed not by violence and recrimination, but by peace.
His road from prisoner to president exemplified far more than a mere personal victory. It was a victory of truth, love, wisdom, and the power of unity over the forces of hatred and chaos.
How many short-sighted, devastating wars, how many millions of deaths and injuries, and how many injustices that plague today’s world might have been prevented had there been more Nelson Mandelas – more voices of clarity, vision, and compassion?
Having led a life of immense grace and dignity, Nelson Mandela has gone on to the peace of eternity.
May we find the courage to follow in his footsteps. May we also take up the spiritual power of positivity, of grace, unity, and transformation.
Photo: from Wikimedia Commons / Author: Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science / “This image, originally posted to Flickr, was reviewed on May 29, 2011 by the administrator or reviewer File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske), who confirmed that it was available on Flickr under the stated license on that date.”
Making his way among the rained-on, green leaves and brush, the great elephant walks through the forest, clearing a path for all the other forest animals as he goes. He pushes aside obstacles with ease. A being of immense power and strength, he never uses force to oppress others. Indeed, he is kind and beneficent, a protective power. Among the gentlest and wisest of beings, he is a vegetarian, though it must be admitted that he does gobble down a huge quantity of plants – sometimes nearly half a ton each day.
Ganesha, the beloved and most popular God of the Hindu people, is an elephant God, with an elephant’s head.
There are many variations of stories told to explain how Ganesha has the head of an elephant – some of the stories are a bit bizarre and depict other Gods behaving rather badly – chopping off Ganesha’s head when he was a young boy, and then finding another one to replace it. However, they are allegories, not meant to be taken literally, and they reflect deeper cosmic realities.
In whatever way Ganesha obtained it, his new head worked out really well, and he couldn’t have asked for a more propitious head. It was endowed with the wonderful natural qualities of the elephant – gentleness and strength, great wisdom and intelligence, a keen enjoyment of life, along with overflowing generosity that bestows good fortune, peace, blessings, and success on all who seek his help.
His huge elephant ears signify his willingness to listen to all those seeking his help.
All Hindu prayers begin with an invocation to Ganesha, who is never too far away and is always within reach of the person who prays.
The celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi, which marks the birth or re-birth of Ganesha, lasts for several days and takes place during the lunar month of Bhadrapada (mid-August to mid-September). In 2013 the celebration runs from September 9 through September 18.
Traditionally, as part of the festival, large clay statues of Ganesha were made out of mud or clay, carried through the streets and then ritually immersed in bodies of water. In recent years however, the practice grew up of making these statues out of plaster of Paris, a harmful substance that pollutes streams and lakes. Now there are efforts to return to the original practice of using natural clay instead, which does not harm the environment or the birds, animals, and fish in the water.
Sadly, over time, people have tended to forget that wild animals, including elephants, should not be taken out of the wild, where they are meant to be and where they are happiest. Today there are elephants kept captive in many temples in India. Worshippers who pass by ask blessings of the temple elephant, never thinking that it is uncomfortable for her to be standing on the hard pavement hour after hour.
In honor of Ganesha, it is to be hoped that soon temples can set aside some acres of land, covered in grass and trees, with a pond – to be a sanctuary for elephants. Though these sanctuaries wouldn’t be the same as being in the wild, they would nonetheless offer a comfortable shady spot, a quiet place for the elephant and her elephant friends to rest and be at peace, where they can still bless devotees from a distance. Their blessings, given from a place of comfort, will no doubt be all the more effective and auspicious.
Ganesha is not only a God of great power, he is also warm, jovial, and friendly. He is the God of knowledge, well-being, and success — in short, of positivity. Depicted as a plump, rather roly-poly being who loves life; he is often shown playing the flute or dancing. In Hindu homes and temples, he graces people’s lives with his presence. The vehicle that he rides on is an animal without pretentions of grandeur — his vahana is a simple mouse.
Early on, around two thousand years ago, the worship of Ganesha spread from Hinduism to Jainism and to Buddhism. When Buddhism was carried from India by missionaries, worship of Ganesha took hold in Japan, Tibet, China, and throughout southeast Asia.
According to a system of worship formalized by the saint Adi Shankar, in the eighth century CE, Ganesha is one of the five primary deities of Hinduism. The others are Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, and Surya. There are many thousands more deities too, and each one may have thousands of names, so it is quite complicated.
Ganesha’s elephant head symbolizes the soul, while his human body signifies the earthly existence of human beings. His trunk represents the syllable om, the eternal sound of cosmic reality.
Ganesha is a scribe, and he wrote down the whole epic poem, the Mahabharata, as it was being dictated to him by the sage Vyasa. It is 18 volumes long, so it took a lot of writing. Ganesha was using a quill pen, but at one point it broke. He didn’t want to stop, so he broke off one of his own tusks to use as a pen, so he could continue to write. Now he is always shown with only one complete tusk, and the other one is broken. His one tusk has another meaning too. It stands for Advaita Vedanta, which is the predominant, non-dualistic form of Hinduism. It recognizes the soul and all beings as being part of God and returning to God. In other words, there is One Eternal Power in the universe, not two competing ones. Evil does exist, but it is not permanent and has no ultimate reality.
Many volumes have been written, and many more could be written, about the beloved Ganesha. So this is only the briefest of introductions.
In prayers and rituals, Ganesha is addressed first before other Gods because he opens the way for the soul on its journey towards the divine; he provides the bridge between earth and heaven – and also the pathway from heaven to earth, by which blessings descend.
To learn more about Ganesha, these books are available at Amazon.com:
Ganesha: The Auspicious…The Beginning by Nanditha Krishna and Shakunthala Jagannathan To view this book on Amazon.com, click here.
Sacred Animals of India by Nanditha Krishna To view this book on Amazon.com, click here.
Top photo: Author: Quadell / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / “Seated Ganesha 12th-13th century Hoysala dynasty Chloritic schist, Halebid, Karnataka, India This sculpture displays the ornate carving and exuberant decoration characteristic of art created under the Hoysala dynasty (1042–1346). The decorated floral arch surrounding the sculpture suggests that it once occupied a cell or niche in a temple. Housed in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.”
Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Elephant on the wall “Descent of the Ganges” at Mahabalipuram
Third photo: Sharon St Joan / On the first day of the holiday Ganesh Chaturthi in 2010, these elephants lined up on the river that runs through Samburu in Kenya, as if to wish Ganesha Happy Birthday.
Fourth photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This image… is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years…You must also include a United States public domain tag to indicate why this work is in the public domain in the United States.”/ “Basohli miniature, circa 1730. National Museum, New Delhi” / “Original uploader was Buddhipriya at en.wikipedia” / “Ganesha getting ready to throw his lotus.”
In an interview by Jim Fleming on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “To the best of our knowledge,” Daphne Sheldrick talks about her book, Love, Life, and Elephants.
She had known Eleanor since she was a two year old orphan and had successfully rehabilitated her back into a wild herd. Occasionally, she went to visit Eleanor, who would come over, greeting her affectionately. They would spend a few moments together, and then Eleanor would go back to her herd. One day Daphne Sheldrick wanted to introduce Eleanor to one of her human friends. They set off to find her, and thought they had spotted her by a waterhole. She didn’t look quite the same, but she was standing there quite unafraid, so it had to be Eleanor. When called, she came over. Daphne Sheldrick stood next to her and put her hand up to touch her behind the ear, as she always did with Eleanor.
It was then that she realized her mistake. The elephant was startled and lashed out, using the same amount of force she would have used with another elephant, sending Daphne Sheldrick sprawling on the ground. A moment later she felt the elephant trying to pick her up with her tusks. With her knowledge of elephants, she knew the elephant would already have killed her if that was her intention. Instead, she was trying to help her. Daphne Sheldrick had a broken leg. The elephant gently touched her with her trunk, trying to help, but seeing that there was nothing she could do, after a few minutes, she turned and walked away.
Daphne Sheldrick discovered later that this elephant, who she called Kathryn, was Eleanor’s best friend, and apparently the two must have had a talk with each other about Daphne Sheldrick, because Kathryn, a wild elephant, had immediately trusted her and even came when called. Kathryn only lashed out when she was unexpectedly startled, and then she was sorry, not having intended to cause any harm.
Daphne Sheldrick’s book, Love, Life, and Elephants recounts stories of a lifetime of profound experiences with elephants and other wild animals. Of the elephants, she says they are very similar emotionally to humans. She is convinced that they communicate telepathically, citing the story of Eleanor and Kathryn, but says that they are “very much nicer than humans.”
David Sheldrick, when he was alive was the founder warden of Tsavo National Park, which is the size of Michigan and which holds the largest population of wild elephants in Kenya. Daphne Sheldrick worked in the park with her husband, and together they began to care for and rehabilitate orphaned wildlife. After David Sheldrick’s death in 1977, she continued this work and founded The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, in memory of her husband. Courtesy of the Kenyan government, she has lived and worked in the Nairobi National Park since that time, caring for wildlife, with a dedicated staff, at the Orphan’s Nursery.
To hear this Wisconsin Public Radio interview with Daphne Shelton online, click here.
To visit the website of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, click here.
Photo: Sharon St Joan / wild elephants at Samburu National Park in Kenya