Deepavali – A Celebration of Light
by Swami Jyotirmayananda
Sages from ancient times have expressed the eternal aspiration of mankind in the following him of the Vedas:
“Asato Ma Sad Gamaya
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya”
“Lead me from untruth to truth
Lead me from darkness to light
Lead me from death to immortality.”
It is this prayer that is enacted in the recent Divali festivity by the offering of myriad lamps or lights to God. Divali comes from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali,” which literally means rows and rows of lights. Throughout the cities and villages where Deepavali is observed, Hindu devotees obtain numerous earthen lamps from the potter or from the market. Oil is then poured into those little vessels and the wicks are kindled. The lamps are then arranged in different patterns, decorating the houses, the rivers, and the temples. Within minutes, from a single light numerous lights emanate; from one lamp numerous lamps are kindled.
The Mystic Significance of Deepavali
All light-filled celebrations associated with Deepavali have a profound mystical significance. Light is the symbol of pure consciousness. All religions of the world have instinctively chosen light as the symbol of Divine Presence, and therefore, lights are burned in temples and churches, and in all places of warship throughout the world.
Travelers from Darkness to Light
To better understand the powerful symbolism of light, imagine that there is a traveler who has lost his way. He finds himself in a dark, cold, windy forest, not knowing where to go. Suddenly he sees a light glowing in the distance and feels a sensation of great joy. After hurrying to where the light is burning, he knocks on the door and is asked to come inside and sit by the fire. That burning light has removed darkness. It has dispelled his fear and become a source of warmth.
Similarly, each soul is like a lost traveler in the forest of the world process. You know neither from where you came, nor where you are going. Even the purpose of your existence is unknown to you. You are as if lost. But then, the possibility of following the spiritual path shines before you like a lamp. It promises the removal of the darkness of ignorance. It dispels fear and insecurity and provides the warmth of bliss.
Human life is a journey from the swirling gloom of the world-process to the Eternal Light of the Self. It is a perennial struggle against the forces of darkness that exist in the form of anger, hatred, violence, greed, and the root cause of all maladies – avidya or ignorance. It is a stream of light that must blend with the Supreme Light of the Self.
God: The Light of all Lights
In this joyous festivity of Divali, God is adored as the Light of Lights. What do we mean by this? The Gita has described the Self in the following words:
“Jyotishamapi Tadjyotih Tamasah Paramuchyate
Jnanam Jneyam Jyanagamyam Hridi Saryasya Vishthitam”
“He is the Light of all lights, beyond the darkness (of ignorance). He is the knowledge, the object of knowledge, and the goal of knowledge. He abides in the heart of everyone” (Ch. 13 Verse 18)
The Path of Wisdom
The Light of the Self is sought by advanced spiritual aspirants through the path of wisdom. Through the senses, objects are revealed, but it is the mind that provides the light for the senses. Without borrowing light from the mind, the senses cannot perceive objects. So the mind is considered to be the light behind the senses. But the mind is not self-luminous; it cannot operate without intellect – the light that guides mental movement. However, even the intellect needs to be illuminated by the Light of the Self – Consciousness, God, or Brahman – in order to perform its functions of reflection and rationalization. So Brahman or God is the Light of Lights. And the ego in man is a fictitious center of the Absolute, sustained by the darkness of ignorance.
As a Jnana Yogi (an aspirant following the path of wisdom) you render your intellect subtle by listening to the scriptures, by reflecting upon the nature of the Self, and by meditating upon the Self as the reality behind all the names and forms. You trim the wick of the ego by negating names and forms. You place the oil of aspiration in the lamp of the heart and kindle the wick with the light of intuition. Intuitive vision then removes the veil of darkness.
The Jnani is the highest worshiper of Light. For him, the world is a glorious display of eternal Deepavali.
The Path of Devotion
The Self is the Light of Love. As a devotee, you approach the Self by the cultivation of pure love. You place the oil of pure feeling in the lamp of your heart. You trim the ego or wick of its vanity by the practice of self-effacing surrender to the Divine Self. You burn the lamp with the light of love and enjoy Divine communion in the temple of your heart.
When the heart is illumined by the Light of Love, the world becomes an ocean of light. You see the Divine Krishna (or the Deity of your choice) in the clouds, in the surging waters of the ocean, in the soft dawn, in the rustling of leaves, in every beauteous expression of Nature. Yet, your vision of Divinity is not merely confined to these. You also see the Hands of the Divine Beloved behind the storms of adversities, and the dark night of sorrow and suffering.
Para Bhakti (supreme devotion) and Jnana (wisdom) are one. It is the Light of the Spirit that expresses itself through Divine sentiments that surge with universal love and compassion in the Sages. It is the same Light that expresses itself through the mighty intellects of Sages, who have presented the transcendental philosophy of the Vedas and various scriptures to mankind.
The Path of Meditation
As a Raja Yogi you celebrate your internal Divali by placing shubha samskaras (pure impressions) in the lamp of your heart by the practice of the various limbs of Yoga. You trim the wick of your ego-sense by the practice of concentration, meditation, and samadhi (super-consciousness). You kindle the light of viveka-khyati (intuitive vision), and having disbursed the veil of ignorance, attain supreme freedom from the fetters of ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and fear of death.
The path of Raja Yoga emphasizes the culture of the will in the human personality. When the will-power of a Yogi becomes highly enhanced, he is able to maintain a serene mind even in the midst of worldly distractions. The flame of Yoga continues to burn serenely within his heart at all times.
The Path of Action
As a Karma Yogi you kindle the flame of selflessness in your heart and sacrifice the impurities of the mind in this flame. This flame is then fed by one’s internal advancement along the ascending heights of meditation, devotion and wisdom.
A Karma Yogi is the worshiper of the Light that shines in every heart. You are the devotee of the Light that expresses itself in all human relationships. Even insulting words and harsh treatment from others fall on your ears like soft whispers from the Eternal Beloved of your heart – the Divine Self.
Be an Integral Yogi
Be an integral worshiper of the Light of all Lights. Let wisdom, devotion, meditation and selfless action blend in your daily life. This is the supreme method of converting your life into a perpetual celebration of Divali.
The idea that “I am the body, mind, senses, or intellect” is darkness; however, the understanding that “I am the innermost Self of all” is the light.
Expectation for a future condition to be more favorable is darkness; but silently entering into the depths of the present and recovering the eternal self our expressions of the light.
Egoism attachment hatred and fear of death and affairs forces of darkness, while humility detachment cosmic love and fearlessness are the glimpses of light.
Thus, let the lamp of reason burn brighter and brighter in the recesses of your heart, and maintain your spiritual movement by withdrawing from the dark shadows of ignorance into the increasing Light of the Self. Let the world become a surging ocean of Light.
May God bless you with increasing spiritual illumination and may you ever enjoy the internal celebration of Divali in the depths of your heart!
May God bless you! Hari OM Tat Sat!