Diwali Blessings: Lighting Lamps, Becoming Light, & Welcoming the Divine
Dear Divine Souls,
I hope that — by God’s Grace — this finds you in the best of health and happiness at this sacred and divine time of Diwali, the Festival of Light!
From high in the sky, the beautifully burning lights of Diwali can be seen, illuminating the nation of India (and so many nations around the world where Indians live) in a kaleidoscopic symphony of colours. The lights of Diwali are viewable even by NASA satellite! Fascinatingly the division between countries, that which divides us — where one country ends and another begins — cannot be seen from the sky. The barriers and boundaries are artificial. However, the lights of Diwali CAN be seen, the divine lights of that which unites us reach high up into the atmosphere.
Diwali is a day eagerly awaited by young and old alike, in which our homes are sweetened by the fragrance of ghee-filled diyas, which flicker upon our household walls, and line our streets.
In preparation for Diwali, we sweep and scrub our homes until they shine like jewels. Dressed in colorful new clothes, we offer burning lights to brighten the skies from our loving hands.
Return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya — welcoming the Divine in Our Lives
Diwali is celebrated as the time at which Lord Rama returned to the city of Ayodhya after being in exile for fourteen years. The people of Ayodhya were, of course, overjoyed at the return of their Divine King. To welcome Him, they filled the streets of the city with brightly burning lamps. The lamps symbolize the joy at His homecoming and also literally a way of beholding His divine face on the dark night of the new moon.
The symbolism of this is truly beautiful. We do not merely celebrate Diwali as a historical remembrance. Rather, as we light the diyas (lamps) we must also consciously and actively welcome the Divine back into our lives. God (by all names and all forms) is of course omnipresent and never “goes away.” However, we go away from God. We turn our focus, our attention, our love and connection away from the Divine and onto the material, the temporal, the fleeting. We offer our actions and decisions on the altar of financial success, material wealth and social status. We forget and neglect to offer ourselves on the altar of the One who is true success, true prosperity, true light and true peace. So, as we light the lamps on Diwali we welcome the Divine back into our lives.
Through these beautiful lamps not only are we better able to behold the image of the Divine outside of ourselves, on our altars, in our temples or other houses of worship, but the true Light is one which shows us the Divine within ourselves as well. We have been not only created by the Creator, but we have also been created of the Creator. So, as we light these beautiful lamps we pray for the divine vision to be able to behold that Divine in all around us and also within ourselves.
When Rama returned to Ayodhya and took the throne of the city, it was the beginning of what is called “Rama Rajya” or the rule of Rama. Rama Rajya is referred to, again and again, not only in the Ramayana but in innumerable other literary works, as really an age of perfection. It is the age to which we are always trying to return — a time of peace, joy, harmony, health and abundance. However, the Ramayana gives us very specific details of what Rama Rajya entailed. These include a complete eradication of despair, poverty, illness, suffering, illiteracy, and violence. The world of Rama Rajya was one in which all people, let me repeat — all people — had sufficient resources, education, training, good health and were loved and cared for.
When we celebrate Diwali, we must similarly be prepared to work toward creating Rama Rajya which began as soon as Rama returned, hence began from Diwali. Rama did not simply wave a magic divine wand and make poverty, illness, illiteracy, malice and despair vanish. Rather He called upon the citizens of Ayodhya to join hands in bringing about the new world order.
In the same way, if we are truly going to celebrate Diwali, we must be prepared to joining our hands and creating a world in which no one, yes no one, sleeps hungry, lacks basic education or health care, or is the victim of violence. It is not enough to just light diyas and eat sweets on Diwali. In order to really celebrate we must vow and pledge that from the next morning we will WORK toward creating Rama Rajya here and now.
Maha Lakshmi – the Goddess of Prosperity
Diwali is also a celebration in which we worship Maha Lakshmi, the Divine Feminine, the Goddess of Prosperity and Abundance. However, it is common for many to mistakenly perceive Maha Lakshmi as the Goddess of tangible wealth, to whom we pray when we want financial improvements in life. However, true Wealth is not merely the number written on our bank statements or on our income tax balance sheet.
True Wealth is the light which shines forth from within us; it is our cup which runneth over with love, compassion, gratitude and joy. Maha Lakshmi is the Divine Mother. She gives and gives like the Sun, and like Mother Ganga — selflessly, with no discrimination, no hesitation, no expectation and no vacation! Maha Lakshmi can be seen and worshipped not only in Her gorgeous form in our mandirs, draped in a shiny red saree, but also in all that gives and gives: the rivers, the trees, the very air that we breathe, the crops that nourish and sustain us. All that is green, all that is beautiful is She.
True Worship of the Goddess
And this beautiful Divine Feminine is what we, as society, are sadly destroying and allowing to be destroyed. Whether in the form of Mother Ganga, Mother Nature, Mother Earth or our human daughters, sisters and mothers — the Divine Feminine is manifest in them all.
Yet tragically, every day, three billion litres of sewage and chemicals contaminate the Mother Ganga alone. Every year, countless millions of trees are cut down in India alone, leaving behind lifeless topsoil that cascades down from mountainsides leaving destroyed villages in its wake. Our land, our water and our air are being filled with toxins, bringing a plague of darkness upon our planet. As a culture which prays for and to our atmosphere, our rivers, our mountains and our plants, we are simultaneously destroying that which we claim to hold sacred.
Similarly, as we worship Maha Lakshmi and perform puja to the Divine Feminine we are desecrating the very living, breathing feminine in our lives.
In the UK, the US and other countries around the world, nearly one in three women are victims of domestic violence; innumerable more are victims of rape and other atrocities. In India, sixty-eight percent of women are abused. Even when they are not being hit, many of our mothers and sisters in India are still prone to abuse, fearful every night, when they must forage outdoors away from home for a place in which to heed the call of nature, simply because they have no toilets. Nearly twenty-five percent of India’s daughters will drop out of school, mainly for the lack of toilets, adding to an unseen toll of poverty, desperation and pain.
In destroying the creation, or permitting the creation to be destroyed without stopping it, we are in fact, destroying the handiwork of the Creator and turning our backs on Maha Lakshmi.
BE the Light
For this festival of lights, let us instead resolve to be the light ourselves. Instead of asking Maha Lakshmi for the bounty of wealth, let us instead ask how we may restore that bounty for the world. In planting a tree, we are planting the grace of Maha Lakshmi. In cleaning our rivers, we are cleaning Her glorious form. In stopping any instances of violence against women and girls, we are protecting Her.
In giving a toilet to a household or a school, we are similarly bringing light, making our world cleaner, and safeguarding the innocent from needless suffering.
Puja does not only mean that which we do sitting in our mandirs; it is how we live our lives. Arpan (offering) is not done only in the midst of a religious ritual; it teaches us how to live. Let every minute and every moment be an opportunity to perform puja for Maha Lakshmi. Let everything we do be an offering to Her.
Each lit diya not only brings individual light, but it also can be used to light others! One single burning candle can light innumerable other candles. On this Diwali, let us not only light the oil lamps but let usbecome the lamps which bring light and then light others. Instead of throwing fireworks into the sky, causing air and noise pollution, let us become the fireworks, illuminating this world through the goodness of our deeds and the selflessness of our actions.
It begins with one tree, one toilet, or even picking up one piece of litter from the road or the bank of a river. It continues with the switching off of one light, the protecting of one girl, one woman, or one resource. From here begins a chain of light that can propel us forth into a new era. Make the resolution, and launch a new era of light in which all may bask. Hope and light are in your hands on this Diwali day.
If we can take a pledge on this Diwali Day to truly be the light and help bring in an era of Rama Rajya, then the lights of our lamps will continue to burn not only for a few hours but on and on throughout the year and for years to come.
With much love and blessings to you all and all your loved ones,
In the service of God and humanity,
Swami Chidanand Saraswati