The Importance of the Vratha-s (Religious Austerities) (50)

11/01/2012 History of Lord Ayyappa

Vratha-s are special observances for achieving spiritual refinement. They involve rituals and austerities. The purpose of such disciplines is to train man for the evolution of spiritual consciousness leading to Self Realisation. Rituals will be meaningful only if they are reinforced with devotion. Austerities and devotion complement each other helping one to gain one- pointed attention and attunement of one’s being with the Supreme Reality.

Vratha-s have the following salient features: Cleansing of the body with the relevant actions (Karma-s), the mind with discrimination and spiritually refining thoughts, and invoking Brahman (Supreme Reality) through rituals.

Scientists prescribe a particular methodology to achieve a particular result. Likewise, Vratha-s are spiritual methodologies laid down by the sages for achieving supra-scientific results that bring harmony and peace in human life; they are based on their investigations and experiences. Naturally, a Vratha will be having certain rules and regulations. They are to be strictly followed to attain the desired results.

Some Manthra-s in the Rigveda (1-22-19) describe that the whole universe is sustained through the Vratha-s of Vishnu.

Vishnoh karmaani pashyathaa
yatho vrathaani paaspashae
Indrasya yujyah sakhaa

The Manthra advises one to comprehend the significance of the actions (Karma) of Vishnu, which have the essential characteristics of a Vratha, in sustaining the universe. It is said that Vishnu is the friend of Indra. Contemplation on the Vratha-like actions of Vishnu would be helpful for our observance of austerities. Vishnu here means the omnipresent Reality. “Veveshti vyaapnothi charaacharam jagat sa Vishnu”. It means, that which pervades all the animate and inanimate objects is Vishnu. Indra means the possessor of Indriya-s, the sense organs and the organs of action, that is, the conditioned ego-self. Therefore, the statement that Vishnu is the friend of Indra means that the Supreme Reality is the Eternal Companion of the time-bound conditioned self (Jeevathma).

The universe, in its subtle and grosser levels, in its inanimate and animate dimensions, is maintained by a disciplined order of actions and reactions emanating from the all-pervading Reality and this is described as the Vratha of Vishnu. The regular repetition of the movements in the solar family gives rise to days, months, seasons and years. This regular movement is the basis of life on Earth. This is all possible because of the disciplined and harmonious actions – the Vratha – of Vishnu. When the Vratha of Vishnu stops, Pralaya – dissolution – occurs. As Vishnu resumes his Vratha, there occurs creative evolution again.

Creation, sustenance and dissolution are based on the eternal flow of the Vratha of Vishnu. There is also beyond this a more subtle and transcendental Vratha and it is called Saaswatha Vratha (Eternal Austerity) of the Supreme Reality.

In the eternal flow of time, man’s life span is insignificant. His life is also governed by the Vratha principles involved in the creative evolution of the universe. Because Nature bestows on man a certain extent of freedom of thought and action, he often tends to misuse this freedom for narrow selfish ends, which further restricts and conditions him. This freedom is designed to enable him to use his elevated status among beings to attune himself with the higher principles of the universe and gain the grace of the Supreme Reality. But his abuse of freedom to erroneous ends, causes an estrangement with Nature and results in nescience and suffering. For a beneficial integration of the body, mind and the spiritual reality, which would bestow health, harmony and a deeper vision of life, the sages advised the observance of the Vratha-s, citing the supreme example of Vishnu’s maintaining everything in harmony by His Vratha.

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