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International Yoga Day

Happy International Yoga Day. Yoga is a practice of uniting body and mind, to strengthen both. It’s performed through Asanas, a word which means “rests.” Just as sitting is a rest from standing, so is standing a rest from sitting; stillness rests from movement, movement from stillness. Go to Temple and come home; go home and go to work, go to work and then go play. There are millions of Asanas, and it is both impossible to practice them all, and ill advised to.

Hold not long enough, and you won’t benefit. Hold too long, and you’ll harm yourself – this you shouldn’t do. How long to hold an Asana? Svaha! Sufficient, enough, success – this is the secret knowledge by which Yoga is learned.

Yogi, some Asanas are easier than others, some work is easier than others. Discover your Dharma, your nature, your duty. Knowing your duty, you’ll be more ready and rested to do what is difficult. Sacrificing for this necessary work becomes easier, as any Asana does. Dharma permits work, Artha, - by tirelessly working the Yogi learns that the benefits of this difficult work, Artha, must be enjoyed, Kama.

A teenager attends to every strand of hair in a mirror before leaving the house: so should you beautify yourselves. Develop insight for the purpose of self-improvement. Body and mind: it is by self-control one becomes a better person. Yoga is the literal “yoke” for this work. Yogi, learn self-control! Hold the reins and bear the yoke. Perfect your wisdom into contentment.

By Yoga one learns to give up, share, use up, exhaust. This is sacrifice, Yogi! A book has a back cover: put it down when done. Flex, and feel confidence in your strength. Your hard work awaits: seek success, and you will not fail.

Playing the game

It is not uncommon for disagreement to arise out of mistrust - especially the mistrust of facts.  Perhaps the facts themselves seem unreasonable, or beyond belief, or perhaps the one presenting them is untrustworthy.  Frankly, there may be any number of reasons.  Regardless, there is reason in the disbelief and the opposing premise must be accepted, and respected: frequently, both sides in a disagreement are wrong, to some extent or another.

It is true, sometimes an athlete needs a competitor - but not all games are measured by the achievements of a challenger. Some games are won by your own strength or speed, alone.  It is when we are alone that we find our truest challenge, and understand there is no need for an antagonist or protagonist.  This is true in game and sport, as well as in industry and art, and especially in matters of political administration.

The truth (and best policy) is one which lies between extremes - to disrespect the experience of another is self-damaging, and to fail to understand some facts may disagree with some of our position but not all of it precludes the possibility of flexibility and evolution in our beliefs.

Frequently, a person may even believe in a god - fervently - that another does not believe in.  To an observer who either believes in still a different god, or no god at all, both beliefs seem foolish.  Yet even such an absurd premise should not be engaged, but accepted and respected.  The politics, economics, philosophy, flags, heroes, and other sacred things and ways of doing things of an opponent should be venerated as if they were our own: these precious things represent the culmination of numerous facts and experience, they are symbols of the principles which are mutually shared and therefore are irrelevant to the present disagreement.  And, it is bad form, not to mention counterproductive and improper, to argue over that which has already been agreed upon.

Games may be won or lost by knowing and following the rules.  But life is not a game: it has no rules to know, and freed from the construct of morality, it is clear one may do everything "right" and still lose.  It is simply irrelevant to consider the motivations of an action: right or wrong, moral or immoral, the effects are the same.  Frequently, the best intentions result badly.

Therefore, in fighting, it is possible to mistake a friend for an opponent when ideologically opposed: even ideological opposites share common interests, and benefit from mutual assistance toward these goals.  Indeed, even within a one camp or another, facts and experience are gathered, agendas shift, ideologies shift, and political affiliations shift - no doubt about it, such a world of change can be a source of anxiety.  All beings seek safety from this changing world.  And seeking safety, we would attack what seems to give us fear, and put down challengers to our own puissance, thinking "reduce the measure of our contest, and we more easily succeed.  If our competitor does worse, the easier we shall do better!"

But this strategy fails.  No attack on a challenger can change the true measure of success, we are not competing against one another, no matter our conception otherwise.  Fighting with our friends and neighbors will not make us better, nor more secure.  Ignoring our friends and neighbors so they feel like they have to yell to be heard (and still not being heard when they yell) is not securing ourselves against doubt. It is possible in such strategy to become so acutely aware of our opponents' faults as to become blinded to our own. And holding absent-mindedly and inflexibly to our own wrong beliefs, act against our own interests.

Consider instead that the measure of good conscience is known only by discovering the limitations of morality.  And those who have measured the limits of morality frequently find them wanting.  What seems cautious to one will undoubtedly seem callous and cowardly to another.  But is is not our duty to be cautious, or bold.  It is our duty to love, and in such athletics of the heart as our nature guides us, to succeed.  Success comes not through difficulty or ease alone, but by remembering what is easy, what is our nature, our dharma, we may strive to improve.  Flexing our only a little, we will not find our reach lacks strength.  Remembering what is our duty, we will not hesitate to act: remembering what is the duty of others we will be better content to permit them to also strive.  They do not challenge us, nor threaten us.  There is no cause for jealousy: those who fail to reach the summit of their ambition frequently find honor enough in lending a hand to those who press behind.  The drum inspires heroes, even when beaten to pieces.  It is not in winning, but in the athletic effort itself, that we find satisfaction of our purpose.

Sacrifice the score and you will enjoy the game better.  Sacrifice your win: friendship with the other players is better prized.  In such boisterous enthusiasm, you will exert yourself and discover your limits - are boundless.  Play for honor, and you will certainly succeed.

Bodhicharyavatara

Lacking any intention to benefit others
I write this to familiarize it to my mind
For it is by such wholesome familiarity
Confidence - even for a short while - increases
If, however, these words are seen by others
These words may be meaningful to them too
And they will share in my good fortune.

Leisure and endowment are dear and rare
How will such a perfect opportunity come to me again?
By leisure and endowment humankind accomplishes what is meaningful
I shall take advantage of them now
To familiarize my mind
And write these words.

Anguttara Nikaya 3.22 - the logic of hope

There are three types of sick people: there is the one who will recover from their illness only if they receive medicine, nursing, proper food, and other care - and will not recover if they do not receive these things. There is also the one who will not recover from their illness, even if they were to receive all the proper care. And there is the one who will recover whether or not they receive care.

Though it is unknown whether a sick person will benefit from care, care is nevertheless given to the sick.  Though it is just as reasonable to fear that a sick person will not benefit from care as it is to hope that a sick person will benefit from care, it is not the hope that guides the provision of care: there are many reasons care is not withheld from the sick: if one seeks health, the unnecessary withholding of care is less reasonable than the unnecessary provision of it.  It is because there are some who do benefit from care that care is given to all sick people.

In the same way there are those who will benefit from seeing the Tathagata, from hearing the Dharma instructed, from training, and other guidance. And there are those who will not - some people will develop sufficient understanding on their own, or fail to do so. But it is because there are those who do benefit from guidance that guidance is provided.

Anguttara Nikaya 5.73 - practice jnana

One of the monks there went to the Buddha Gotama, and asked, "you talk about 'dwelling in Dharma,' please explain and expound on this?"

The Buddha said,

A monk might study the Dharma, spending the day in study. This monk is keen on studying the Dharma, but does not dwell in the Dharma.

A monk might take the Dharma as he has heard it - faithfully! - and teaches it in full detail to another. He spends the day describing the Dharma. This monk is keen on describing the Dharma, but does not dwell in the Dharma.

A monk might recite the Dharma, and be keen on reciting the Dharma - but does not dwell in the Dharma.

A monk might think about the Dharma, evaluating it, examining it, keen on thinking - but not dwelling in the Dharma.

But there is a monk who, having studied, described it, thought upon it, lives according to what he has studied, described and thought upon. He dwells in the Dharma. But, understanding this is still not sufficient - it is not sufficient to dwell in the Dharma, monk. Practice jnana, monk. Whatever a teacher should do I have already done for you. You know what you must do. Exert yourself now: practice jnana, monk. Over there are roots of trees suitable for this, over there are empty dwellings also suitable for this.

Samyutta Nikaya 22.43 - Leaving the refuge

The Buddha Gotama said,

Like an island is a refuge in the flooding water, your own wisdom is a refuge in the darkness of ignorance (Here are many word plays: light is a play on not only a lamp, but also wisdom or understanding. Island is also a play: "diipa" is a play on the word which connotes island, dviipa, and a specific kind of light, diipa, which connotes a small ceremonial light used to help see without disturbing the darkness, like nightlights don't disturb the darkness of a home but provide guidance - and also connotes wisdom or understanding, safety, guidance - as many small lamps guide one along a path in the dark, especially at Diwali). You have no other refuge than this (light/island).

Whether a person seeks such self-reliance and isolation, or tries to avoid it, everyone is nevertheless an island unto themselves. And finds themselves alone. And in such isolation, one comes to understand sorrow. One comes to understand grief. And pain. And despair.

But you, monks, having understood these as any other person might, should go further and consider the origin of these. Whereas any other person might see change - in their own body, in their friends, in their world, in their beliefs, in their feelings, in their perceptions, in their thoughts, in their consciousness - whereas any other might notice age, weakness, death, a change in anything in any way, and be overcome by an experience of the turbulence (like an island is overcome by a flooding river or ocean), overcome by the ignorance (like a light is swallowed by darkness at a distance), you should consider the origin of these.

Consider: it is by seeing change one understands impermanence. Understanding impermanence, one understands the unsatisfactory nature of things, and seeks something beyond that. It is by gradually experiencing, and seeking (like following guiding lamps in the dark) one arrives at the true nature of reality with perfect insight (as one is guided by a series of lamps to a destination).

Having thus considered, you will not try to stay at one lamp, on one island, but will bravely enter the dark, bravely enter the flood. You will never again hold onto or attach to things, you will sacrifice all that you hold on to. You will sacrifice, you will give up, use up, you will abandon all your despair, your pain, your grief, your sorrow - and even your isolation. You will be unworried by change, turbulence, ignorance. You will be at ease. Even in the dark, even in the flood. You will be your own lamp, your own island, your own refuge. You will not need guidance. Be assured, you will deliver yourself from your precarious situation.

Advice for success

It is alright not to know the solution to a problem at the beginning: by study and experimentation, the mechanics are understood, and the causes discerned. Then, several solutions will be apparent.  Choosing the best solution means sacrificing objectives to limitations of opportunity and ability: this sometimes means doing nothing at all, to not make things worse.  But this is rarely the best course of action.  Study the matter, discuss the matter, consult with experts, examine your ability so as to improve your options - then consider what opportunities you have.  You will not fail.

The drum - excerpts from the Atharva Veda (5, 20)

The lion roars for joy during the chase
    expecting the food
The bull bellows for joy battling the yearling
    expecting the heifer
So does the drum whet the voice of the hero
    entering the battle expecting to win

Even when the rules are known and advantage enjoyed
    victory is uncertain
    but loss is yet unreasonable to expect
Having played well, prepare now to gather your winnings
As a gambler holding a high hand
As a Priest preparing for what must be sacrificed
Declare your message pleasantly and clearly:
    it will resound in all directions like Indra's thunder
Your voice is counsel and strength to your friends
Songmaker!  Give us a song of victory to sing!
Winner - or loser - you will gain honor in this fight
Like a drum, you inspire heroes to success
Even if beaten to pieces!

So now call forth your heroes
And with your friends gathered
Lead us all to honor!

Methodology of Buddhism: Considerations of the Shiva Purana 27

The first time that the Avatara of Buddha was manifested (by Arihat/Mayamoha), Vishnu instructed in Adharma and Atheism.  Understanding that these are sometimes (and as frequently) necessary and beneficial practices as Dharma and Theism introduces an important prerequisite understanding: nontheism, the sacrificing of sacrifices.

There is a difference between no longer sacrificing, and sacrificing sacrifices, between no longer sacrificing living beings and no longer sacrificing at all.  One who attempts ahimsa quickly learns the lesson that it is not possible: all beings must harm another to sustain their own life, if only to eat.  It is a practice to gain understanding how to make our lives worthy of sustenance, how to honor the sacrifice of those beings that sustain us: it inspires a correct purpose of practice (Dharma).

Similarly, understanding the difference between methodology and goal requires sufficient understanding of the purpose of the practice and cannot be learned except by setting an impossible goal of Vedism.  Vedism is the means of understanding Dharma: ultimately, it is learned that with Kama as the goal, Artha as the means, Dharma is a method.  As someone might navigate using a distant landmark, compass or star to maintain a correct path, so does Kama, when achieved by Artha, provide sufficient guidance to naturally achieve Dharma. 

One further example: one might attempt to live.  And one would succeed every day - for a while.  But though this is an impossible goal, sustaining life teaches the Dharmic method of life: healthy food, exercise, sobriety, hygiene, etc.

If we attach to our goals, we lose sight of the purpose and develop fundamentalism, extremism, and worse.

There are fewer dangers than extreme views: whether atheist or theist, as both result in dogma.  Wonder, amazement, infatuation, intoxication (moha) - these result in such practices of fundamentalism, and extremism, the attachment to belief, to materialism (moha), and especially the materialization of beliefs (moha).  This is why beauty is able to be weaponized (moha).  The wound of moha is moha itself: stupifaction, bewilderment, distraction, folly, error, loss of consciousness, loss of awareness, loss of self (different from sacrifice of self), shame. 

Together with chakras, moha is one of the principle weapons of Vishnu.  Like a chakra, moha is typically not a weapon held in combat, but is projected at a distant target, or used in conjunction with other weapons.  A mohanastra (a type of weapon of moha, which is projected at a target rather than held) is often used to hide the more deadly attack.  Yet though Vishnu wounds with moha, Vishnu's attack is not deadly.  Mohapasas (snares or traps of illusion) are used to hold a victim defenseless during an attack (like a mouse is killed by the cheese of a mousetrap), or even to capture and enslave a victim.  Yet this does not happen, either: Vishnu permits the victims to escape unharmed. 

Clearly, the attack by Vishnu's moha is not malevolent.  It is intended as an instruction to permit the achievement of amoha - and to prepare the victim for defense against a more malevolent enemy.

Who is this malevolent enemy?  None other than the victim's self. 

We often will enslave ourselves with moha, attaching to beliefs, to dogma, to theism or atheism.  Under the theory that ignorance is bliss, we will ignore the deadly dangers we face daily.  We infatuate ourselves rather than permit ourselves to love.  We make our own hell (vimoha), and convince ourselves it is heaven.  We are afraid of our errors, and seek to avoid (or place) blame, rather than learn from them.

What is taken up is either laid down again or dropped from lack of strength - sooner, or even much later.  No Asana can be held forever, no abhishekam can borne forever, no yagna can be performed forever.  All things seek rest: when we stand, we must soon sit; when we sit, we must soon stand.  While we live, we must grow weary, injured, ill, old and eventually die.  Hunger and satiety follow each other.

The Vedas, like all moha, can be held to too tightly, or not tightly enough.  They are a powerful means for self-defense - or for self-injury.  When it is forgotten that they may be taken up or laid down as necessary, one becomes attached to either theism or atheism. 

The purpose of the Vedas is sacrifice: the Vedas themselves must be sacrificed.  When we attach through moha to the Vedas, when we become extreme in our theology, failure (moha) will result: just as readily as failure results from atheism. 

Ultimately, the cycle of practice, from theology to atheology to nontheology and back again, like any cycle of Asanas, requires great flexibility - and discerning the means from their purpose by understanding both impermanence and the necessity of letting go of beliefs: it is the sacrifice of sacrificing that is ultimately demanded of our practice, that we might again take it up.

Swami Vivekananda - Truth of Puranas

As a person might draw on a 2-dimensional paper an image of a sphere, but may never truthfully say "this is a sphere," nor would be incorrect in saying "this is a sphere," nor could this person in reality form a perfect sphere even in 3-dimensions to truly call it "a sphere," or even draw a perfect circle in 2 dimensions to truly call it "a circle," the Puranas are illustrative of theoretical concepts which cannot be otherwise demonstrated.  Understanding this is the ultimate purpose of the Puranas: understanding that truth is itself a theoretical abstraction is essential to understanding the conditional relevance and necessity of falsehoods: sometimes a lie is necessary, or irrelevant.  

A wheel sometimes need not be entirely perfectly round to provide a smooth ride: some roads are rougher, and it won’t matter whether the wheel is well balanced. The measure of good conscience may be made only after discovering the extent to which the demands of morality are flexible.

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA said,

Some historical truth is the nucleus of every Purana. The object of the Puranas is to teach mankind the sublime truth in various forms; and even if they do not contain any historical truth, they form a great authority for us in respect of the highest truth which they inculcate.

Take the Râmâyana, for illustration, and for viewing it as an authority on building character, it is not even necessary that one like Rama should have ever lived. The sublimity of the law propounded by Ramayana or Bharata does not depend upon the truth of any personality like Rama or Krishna, and one can even hold that such personages never lived, and at the same time take those writings as high authorities in respect of the grand ideas which they place before mankind.

Our philosophy does not depend upon any personality for its truth. Thus Krishna did not teach anything new or original to the world, nor does Ramayana profess anything which is not contained in the Scriptures.

It is to be noted that Christianity cannot stand without Christ, Mohammedanism without Mohammed, and Buddhism without Buddha, but Hinduism stands independent of any man, and for the purpose of estimating the philosophical truth contained in any Purana, we need not consider the question whether the personages treated of therein were really material men or were fictitious characters.

The object of the Puranas was the education of mankind, and the sages who constructed them contrived to find some historical personages and to superimpose upon them all the best or worst qualities just as they wanted to, and laid down the rules of morals for the conduct of mankind. Is it necessary that a demon with ten heads (Dashamukha) should have actually lived as stated in the Ramayana? It is the representation of some truth which deserves to be studied, apart from the question whether Dashamukha was a real or fictitious character. You can now depict Krishna in a still more attractive manner, and the description depends upon the sublimity of your ideal, but there stands the grand philosophy contained in the Puranas.

The Buddha's birth as Rama - Dasaratha Jataka

The Buddha Gotama said,
once upon a time at Benares, the good King Dasaratha had two sons and a daughter with his Queen-Consort: Rama, Lakkhana, and Sita (daughter by marriage to Rama). In time, the Queen-Consort died, and the King was crushed by sorrow. But, urged by his court, the King set another wife in her place as Queen-Consort. This wife was also dear to the King, and in time as Queen-Consort she gave birth to a son named Bharata. The King was so happy with the birth of Bharata, that he offered to the Queen-Consort anything she would want. She strategically told the King she would ask the gift at a later time. And, when Bharata was seven years old, and Rama was to be given the Kingdom, the Queen-Consort asked her gift: "give Bharata the Kingdom."

The King was greatly enraged at this, and snapping his fingers at her, called her terrible names, and ordered her out. "My other sons shine like blazing fires, will you kill them and ask this Kingdom for the son of yours?" She fled in terror, but encouraged by some supporters, continued to remind the King of his promise to give her what she asked for, and insisted on this gift. This caused the King alarm: that she had support, and determination, she might find a way to murder her son's rivals. So he called his sons together, and his court, and explained the situation to everyone gathered.  He told Rama, "I cannot keep you safe if you remain here. Go to a neighboring Kingdom, or to the forest, and in 12 years when I am dead and cremated, return and claim the throne." Everyone wept when Rama promised to do as the King commanded. But then Lakkhana said he would go with his brother, and Sita said too, "I too will go with my brothers," and the three left the palace before the King could object.

When the three siblings left, they were accompanied by a vast company of people, who would have followed them into exile. But these were sent back to wait for Rama to reclaim the throne. The three siblings wandered a while, until they came to the Himalaya. There, in a spot near running water, convenient to wild fruit, they built an ashram and lived in hermitage.

Lakkhana and Sita told Rama, you are like our father to us, and will be King: remain here in the ashram. We will serve you, bring you fruit, and feed you. There they lived for nine years, while King Dasartha slowly died from grief and misfortune. When the King was dead, the Queen-Consort commanded that the umbrella be raised over her son, Bharata. But the Lords would not permit it, saying that the rightful heir was away in the forest. To his mother's surprise, Bharata himself also agreed with the Lords: "I will fetch back Rama, and raise the umbrella over him!" Taking the royal umbrella with him, Bharata led the Lords and army to Rama's ashram at a time when Lakkhana and Sita were away in the forest gathering fruit. At the door of the ashram sat Rama, undismayed and at ease. Prince Bharata approached Rama, and greeting him, standing at one side, told him of all that had happened, and falling at his feet with all the Lords and army, wept. Rama neither sorrowed nor wept, for he had no more emotion at all. Rama therefore comforted his half-brother, and they waited together for Lakkhana and Sita to return.

Rama considered in the quiet that if Lakkhana and Sita were to return now, they would be greatly pained at hearing that their father is dead: they had not yet accomplished the sacrifice of emotion, as Rama had. "Their hearts will break. I will persuade them to go down into the water, and there find a gentle way of telling them what has happened, the cool water will comfort them." So, he had Bharata, the Lords and all the army hide, and when Lakkhana and Sita returned, he gently remonstrated them. "You have taken too long harvesting fruit. Let this be your penance: go into the pond, and stand there. 

When they were in the water, he joined them, and said "Bharata says, King Dasaratha's life is at an end." Lakkhana and Sita fainted. But the water revived them. Again and again, they fainted and rose, and at last Bharata, the Lords and army could not stand idly by: they rescued them out of the water, and setting them on dry ground, wept all together. Yet all noticed that Rama did not weep, understanding this as a sign of his emotional control, his yogic accomplishment.

Bharata asked Rama for help, to teach all those gathered there how to overcome their grief. Rama said,

"When young, a child cries when they cannot keep a thing. But not only children do this: even those who are full grown will weep at loss."

Rama sang,

"Is this wise? The child, the old, the fool and the wise
The rich and the poor may be sure
Each one of us dies!
As sure as you are ripened fruit will fall
As sure as you know by the evening the morning will be gone
The fear of loss, and death, is known to all."

Rama said, "What good does weeping and tormenting one's self as a consequence of loss accomplish?  Grief weakens you, makes you thin, and pale. This does not bring the dead to life, or return what is lost - but results in further loss, and more reasons to grieve. When a house burns, much is lost, sometimes death results. But a housefire is put out with water, not with tears."

Rama addressed everyone present, "I will protect and care for all my people, but cannot protect them from death. As I could not protect my father, the King from death. And he could not protect me. Yet to who remain alive I will be their King. This is how I may best explain the impermanence of things."

When Rama said this, all present understood impermanence, and gave up their grief. Promptly, Prince Bharata saluted Rama, and begged him to receive the Kingdom of Benares. Rama replied, "No, brother. My father commanded me to return after 12 years, and this I will do. Take Lakkhana and Sita with you, and administer the Kingdom yourselves until then." Bharata, Lakkhana and Sita objected, saying they could not: they lacked Rama's wisdom and ability. Rama assured them, though this might be true, they were nevertheless sufficiently competent. A Kingdom, well administered, did not even require a King. Taking off his sandals, Rama gave them to Bharata saying that even these sandals could administer the Kingdom - certainly Bharata, Lakkhana and Sita could do as well? With this, he said goodbye to his siblings, his Lords and army, and promised to see them again in three years.

For three years the sandals administered the Kingdom: when there was a case which required the King's judgement, the sandals were consulted. If the lower judge had decided a case incorrectly, the sandals were beat upon each other (by Bharata, Lakkhana and Sita), and the lower judge would re-examine it. If the decision of the lower judge was right, the sandals would remain quiet.

When the three years were over, Rama returned, came to Benares, and entered the park. When this was discovered, everyone came to the park to celebrate the return of their King! Sita was made Queen-Consort, and Rama and Sita were paraded clockwise around the city. Then, ascending to the palace Sucandaka, Rama reigned a long time, before death took him too.

The Buddha Gotama then concluded the story, saying in time, legends expanded the length of Rama's reign - so much did the people wish he had reigned longer. It became said that he reigned not for 60 years, but for 60 times 100, and then ten-thousand more (10,600 years). And if a pair of sandals could reign for three years, why not believe this?  At that time, Suddhodana was King Dasaratha, Mahamaya was the mother of Rama, Rahula's mother (the Buddha Gotama's wife, Yasodhara) was Sita, Ananda was Bharata and I, myself, was Rama."

Shiva Purana 21 - Ravana's relief

Once Ravana became King of the Rakshasas of Lanka, he performed tapasya to honor Brahma.  Dissatisfied with even his extraordinary efforts, having endured constantly day and night, even through the excrement of his own filth, now at the point of despair and madness, he dug a pit on the southern slopes of Himavan, and kindled five fires, giving up his Brahma tapasya, and installing a Siva Linga before him.  Ravana then began to cut off his heads (he had ten of them) and one by one sacrificed them in the fire.

At the moment he would have killed himself by cutting off his last head, Shiva Sankara was so disturbed by this that he woke from his meditation and appeared before Ravana.  Like a doctor, Shiva aided body and mind: he gently restored the severed heads, and thinking Ravana insane, and that he might similarly relieve Ravana's mental injury, lovingly asked what Ravana could possibly hope for by such self-harm?

Ravana admitted he might be insane, but said, "I love you.  I wanted to see you.  I want to take this Linga to Lanka, that I may always be as near to you as I am now, that you may always hear me and my people should we require relief.  I am now King of the Rakshasas, I want your unequalled strength to protect my people and myself against the Devas, Asuras, Nagas, animals... [he listed every type of being, but forgot to include humans, since he did not fear them - Shiva didn't correct the mistake, as it was clear that Ravana had more to fear from himself than from humans, or anyone else for that matter].  I fear that my people will never be safe without this."

Shiva shook his head in disbelief: he couldn't understand why Ravana thought this would accomplish these goals, and yet - here Shiva was, before him, ready to give him what he wanted.  Shiva had been tricked.  Shiva was a annoyed at having been tricked, and disturbed, and would teach Ravana a lesson.  "Well, you are now as strong as you imagine me to be, Ravana.  You may take this Linga, Rakshasa," said Shiva, smiling.  "But remember - it will remain wherever you set it down first.  Don't hand it to anyone along the way to hold for you, and do not set it down until you get to Lanka.  Only you can carry it, and only this once."

Shiva went away again and Ravana was so happy.  Having bathed and refreshed himself a little, he began.  He found he was able to lift the Shiva Linga with no effort at all!  He began the long journey back to Lanka.  But on the way, that Rakshasa, that master of tapasya, who endured the excrement of his own filth and even cut off his own heads, now felt the need to defecate and decided to relieve himself of this discomfort: the Devas, jealous of Shiva's great gifts, had feared Ravana would use it to attack them, and asked Vishnu for help.  Vishnu suggested Varuna to fill Ravana's bowels and bladder with fluid.

At this very moment when he was filled with fluid, Ravana met a cowboy - the cowboy happened to be Vishnu in disguise.  The cowboy made some remarks about how Ravana seemed discomforted, and needed relief - then kindly offered to hold the linga while he relieved himself.  So persuasive was the cowboy that Ravana hastily agreed, handing the cowboy the lingam and rushing into the privacy of the bushes.  Well, Vishnu had intended to give the lingam to the Devas, but as strong as he was, he could hold the heavy linga only a moment or two.  And Ravana was gone more than a half-hour!  The cowboy had to put down the linga, and it became immovable from that spot: this jyotirlinga vaidyanatha remains today in that spot (it is named after how Shiva was Ravana's doctor, vaidya, in healing Ravana's decapitation).

Try as Ravana could to move it, he could not.  In his extraordinary efforts, Ravana even dented it - but it is still there today, and will always remain there.

Well, Ravana could do nothing to move the stone.  So he swore to visit it every day if he could, seeking the relief of Shiva.  Many pilgrims still visit the stone today, like Ravana would.  Perhaps in visiting it you will gain the same relief as Ravana did?  Whether in his daily devotions, or nearby that spot in the bushes.  Or afterward, in his failure.

Luckily, Ravana still had the immense strength given to him by Shiva, and came home happy to Lanka, satisfied he could protect his people.  When his people saw how strong he was, they celebrated him.  They knew they would be safe!

But when the Devas heard of this strength, they grew anxious: even without the lingam, Ravana was now so dangerous.  Would the Rakshasas now challenge them in war, as the Asuras had so frequently done?  It seemed likely - especially once Ravana discovered they had pre-emptively attacked him with fluid.  They decided to take another pre-emptive strike.  It was at this time that Narada traveled among the Devas, and heard of Ravana's strength, and the fears of the Devas.  He assured the Devas not to worry.  It was clear to Narada, at least, that Ravana would not remain always protected by Shiva.

Narada was a friend to everyone, humans, animals, nagas, Devas, Asuras, and Rakshasas too.  And more than these, besides.  Every kind of being, and every individual being he was a friend to!  Narada loved to hear their stories.  And, this was one story he had to hear first hand!  So soon he departed from the Devas, and went to Lanka to visit Ravana.  There, he asked to hear the story of what happened.  Ravana, of course, was eager to oblige: as much as Narada liked to hear stories, Ravana liked to tell this one.  When Ravana came to the part of the story where he was given limitless strength, Narada asked him what he intended to do with it?

Ravana thought a moment, and said "to thank Shiva, I will celebrate our perpetual safety by conquering every world!"  Ravana had learned that the Devas had caused him to drop the linga, and considered he might not be safe while the Devas - or anyone else - remained unconquered.

Narada smiled, apparently the Devas were partially correct in being afraid.  But Narada, friend to every being, would not permit Ravana to harm anyone else - let alone everyone else!  So Narada conceived of a trick.

"Of course you will," Narada said, knowingly.  "And you have Shiva to thank for this strength.  But you know, he is so absorbed in his meditation, he might not notice how much you love him, how grateful you are, your victories for his sake, or even if you need him to help you.  Besides, you dropped the linga, and in trying to pick it up again dented it - this probably insulted him.  Perhaps, you should refresh his memory of your love, and perform another tapasya?  Might you not with your great strength lift up Kailasa (on which Shiva sits) and gently set it down again, shouting his praise, and thanking him properly?  You should wake Shiva from his meditation again and get his attention!  Then you can be sure he will keep his promise, forgives you for dropping the linga, and knows how much you love him!  Oh, he will be so pleased!"

Ravana, despite his devotion to and love of Shiva, did not actually understand Shiva enough to know this would greatly annoy Shiva.  Ravana did not know what would truly thank Shiva, how to express his love to Shiva, or gain the forgiveness of Shiva.  Thus, what Narada proposed seemed wise to Ravana.  So Ravana promptly did as Narada proposed.

When Ravana lifted up the mountain, every world shook.  Ravana shouted how much he loved Shiva, and how sorry he was, and the noise reverberated through all the worlds.  Shiva was indeed awakened from his meditation, and startled, grew angry.  In alarm, he turned to Gauri (Shivaa) and asked "what is this?  Who shakes my mountain and disturbs me?"

Gauri (Shivaa) was also awakened by this shouting and shaking, but instead of growing angry at the surprise, was giggling.  She smiled laughed at the whole thing.  Especially at Shiva's reaction.  "Don't be alarmed, Shiva - it is merely gratitude from your devotee, Ravana the Rakshasa.  Can't you hear his shouting?  He is showing you how strong he is, how much he loves you, how sorry he is, and how he relies on you for protection."

But Shiva had already lost his temper, and decided to give Ravana an answer: soon enough Ravana would understand how to properly express his devotion.  He would learn self-restraint, and how to properly protect his people: not by war, but by peace.  He also grew irritated with Vishnu, and all the Devas who interfered with Ravana's journey to Lanka, leading Ravana to even think that he needed to shake Kailash, or conquer every world.  And he was annoyed at Narada - since he liked stories so much, Shiva would give Narada more stories than even he would want to hear.  Shiva decided he would teach Ravana - and everyone else - a lesson.

But Ravana was shouting so loudly that he didn't even hear the conversation of Shiva and Gauri, did not notice how angry Shiva was, and never knew to ask forgiveness for disturbing him.  Nor could anyone else hear Shiva and Gauri over the ruckus, or notice Shiva's anger in the commotion of Ravana's shaking and shouting.  Ravana therefore went back to Lanka, happy, certain that in following Narada's advice he had reminded Shiva of his love.  And the Devas were happy, thinking that Narada had tricked Ravana into angering Shiva. He would destroy Ravana.

At the moment Ravana would have returned home, Shiva put his foot down and pinned Ravana under the mountain.  Ravana understood Shiva was angry, but really didn't understand why.  He sang Shiva's praises for years before Shiva finally let him go.  Gauri persuaded Shiva to forgive Ravana, and Shiva did feel bad for losing his temper, and the destruction of Ravana (Shiva exists without Time, and had already/would already destroyed Ravana).  So Shiva gave Ravana "the laughter of the moon," Gauri's laughter, a precious sword curved like the moon, or a laughing mouth.  Shiva also made him an instrument, a veena, to help him sound better (Ravana was not a melodious singer).  "Made him" is a pun, as the instrument was literally made out of Ravana.  It was at this time that Shiva gave Ravana his name:

Ravana's name means "screamer," or "loud roaring," referencing the unmelodious singing by which he earned Shiva's forgiveness.  It also connotes a sarcastic reference to one who is knowledgeable and aware - of the true, material nature of their environment and self ("yasam ravanam") - as Ravana still did not understand why Shiva was angry.

Ravana is renowned as the author and teacher of astrology, folk medicine, spirituality (as opposed to theology), phonics (opposed to linguistics), politics, and other pseudoscience, and is the epitome of excessive or over-education, someone too clever for their own good.  He is the "great brahman," and both knew and liked to sing all the Vedas.  Often with the accompaniment of his veena.

Ravana at first tried to welcome peace and friendship with all other beings, even trying to make peace between the Asuras and Devas, equally welcoming their priests to his court.  But war broke out eventually, despite Ravana's best efforts (perhaps because of them), and he conquered every world.  He was greatly angered at the Devas after his brother, Kuber, insulted him, calling him greedy, materialistic, and stupid (all of which, to be fair, were true allegations - especially considering how Ravana responded to them).

He was doomed to this life of ignorance and fighting, and eventual defeat by Vishnu, because a long time before, Ravana and his brother had been Vishnu's doorkeepers - but that is another story.  Some of Ravana's human descendants, and also human inheritors, live in Lanka today.

Loading the dice - pragmatic debate

The Buddha Gotama introduced a new form of debate, "loading the dice," "the safer bet," "cover all bets" - in the sense that one would bet on both red and black, odds and evens, one must presume that the argument presented is both true and false. Even an absurd argument could be correct under certain circumstances: discovering these limits of truth must become the purpose of argumentation.

For example it may be argued that one is not thirsty after drinking water, therefore water suppresses thirst. The safer bet would be to question when drinking water actually suppress thirst and when it does not to understand why and how.  Both argument and counterargument are true: the truth lies somewhere in the middle, where each becomes false.

Consequently, the method of pragmatic debate comes to develop not only a better understanding of the subject, but the reason for the disagreement between proponents and opponents.  Why does it matter if one can suppress thirst by water?  Is someone thirsty? 

Thus, argumentation is made only to develop major and minor premises: there is no necessity to debate inferences, deductions, inductions or undertake any other development of these premises.  And necessarily concludes when all premises are conditionally accepted.

This method of debate never develops deconstructive antagonism between proponents and opponents, but on the contrary cultivates constructive respect and friendship.  A candle may in fact light the darkness - but only to a small radius around the flame.  It is the purpose of argument to further extend this enlightenment. 

Shiva Purana 11


Vishnu gave to Shiva a garland of santanaka flowers to give as a gift to Indra, King of the Devas, who had just won a war between the Asuras and Devas.  Indra had thought he had finally conquered every world from the Asuras, and did not yet understand that this meant his war would continue: he could not yet comprehend the means to peace with the Asuras - or that Vishnu could be a friend to both the Asuras and the Devas.  The flowers were given as a gift to "celebrate" his victory, and help the Asuras.  Indra graciously accepted the flowers, and draped them around the neck of his vehicle, the elephant Airavata.  But there were bees on the flower, and the animal grew terrified: Airavata pulled off the flowers and smashed them (and the bees) on the ground.

Shiva played the part Vishnu cast him, and spoke in anger (though of course this reaction of Airavata is exactly what was intended from the start), "arrogant Indra!  Even if it were just a gift from me, you shouldn't treat it like this!  That was a gift from Vishnu!  Now look what you have done to it!  You will lose the three worlds you rule, you will lose all your wealth.  And all your devas will experience old age and death!"  Airavata, being Indra's vehicle, was more than a simple elephant: it was an extension of Indra's own person, and Shiva had every right to be upset.  Indra tried to apologize, but Shiva coldly said "I am not forgiving!" echoing Indra's own words when the Asuras had begged forgiveness.

Proud Indra, though he understood, did not make things right.  So, when the next war between the Asuras and Devas came, the Devas actually died from the Asura's weapons.  To Indra's surprise, the Devas did not come back to life as they usually had!  And all the Devas began to weaken from their extreme age.  The Devas quickly lost every world to the Asuras.  They sought the help of Brahma, who was aware of Vishnu's play.  Brahma therefore advised them to seek the help of Vishnu.  Vishnu was their friend, after all.

Vishnu said he would help the Devas, he was their friend, after all.  "Devas, churn the Kshirasagara (primordial ocean), until it gives up amrita (a word that means "no longer begging for what sustains life" a thing which satisfies every desire - it is a play on words, as well, as the Devas had been reduced to beggars, and were begging Vishnu for forgiveness).  Let the Asuras be your allies in the churning - at least until the amrita rises.  Agree to any condition they demand, and I promise you none of them will drink the amrita.  Befriend them - as the snake does the mouse."

(The reason for not sharing the amrita lies in both previous and subsequent episodes of this story, of which this section is only one episode - but suffice to say that the Asuras already had Amrita, though they did not know it.  Eventually, Vishnu, by the last several Avataras, restores peace to both Asuras and Devas: it is not by conquest or domination one establishes peace, but by accomplishing the purpose of the struggle, and working with an adversary against the conditions that led to opposition.  Vishnu teaches both sides self-restraint, and to sacrifice both their right to revenge and victory, teaching them to value the friendship and cooperation they sought enough to remember it was their purpose.  Thus, the Devas and Asuras sacrifice not only the worlds they conquered, but their native worlds too - for the sake of the friendship and peace they rightly desired because they understood the means of conflict and war was not accomplishing their purpose: this is how they all became friends, living in peace, together with all the beings of every world.  Vishnu, eventually, by the subsequent Avatara of the Buddha, shares the Amrita with all beings).  

So Indra led the Devas to Bali, the Asura King.  They lied, just as Vishnu had directed them to and Bali was convinced that his victory over them and every world would not be complete without the amrita - and those other things which would emerge from the churning.  "Neither the Asuras nor Devas alone have the strength to churn the ocean, but together we might."  As they began to plan how to do this great thing, Vishnu spoke to the assembly of Devas and Asuras, saying "use Mount Madara as your churning rod, and Vasuki and his people as your rope."  (Vasuki was the King of the Nagas, dragon or snake-like beings who could change shape at will, and a servant-vehicle of Vishnu).

Of course, Vasuki was in on the play as well, and agreed to be used as a rope when Bali offered him a share of the Amrita, and commanded all his people to be used as ropes as well.  So the Devas and Asuras, singing in their work, uprooted Mount Madara and tried to carry it to the ocean - but it was too heavy, and they dropped it, killing many Devas and Asuras.  The survivors began to cry, and so Vishnu cheered them up - with one finger, he lifted Mandara, and revived all the dead Asuras and Devas.  As if helping children with their work, Vishnu completed the task of bringing the mountain to the ocean.

Vasuki and his people wound themselves around the mountain, and announced they were ready.  The Devas took hold of the head, and the Asuras the tail - and the Asuras protested - they would not be denied the honor of the greater danger (Vasuki breathed fire, and in the exertion could not be expected to fully restrain himself).  Vishnu smiled, sighed, shook his head at this arrogance and encouraged the Devas, "agree to whatever the Asuras want."  So the Devas and Asuras switched places.

The mountain kept sinking down into the ocean's floor, and so they could not churn the ocean.  So, Vishnu was manifested by Kurma, the turtle, and swimming to the ocean floor, supported the churning rod.  Now, the Asuras and Devas sang and enjoyed the work, greater and greater speed, stirring the sea like you would make cheese out of milk.  Vishnu laughed and enjoyed the friendship the Asuras and Devas shared, and because he was tickled by the spinning mountain on his back.

But the faster the churning, the more the mountain wobbled.  So Vishnu was manifested  again, thousand armed as tall as the sky, and held the peak of the mountain steady.  Now, Vishnu was above and below the mountain, as well as the churning rope.  But the Asuras and Devas were playing together, in friendship: they challenged one another to greater exertion, and effort, in love.

But now the trouble started: Vasuki was strained, and began to vomit fire and venom, this burned Bali, and the other Asuras.  All their fancy clothes and garlands were burned, their jewelry was scalded by the acid.  Of course, the Devas were more resistant to it, and this suffering was unnecessary.  Nevertheless, the Asuras refused to yield their position to the Devas.  By their stubbornness, the Asuras would have been burned alive, but Vishnu then manifested as a thundershower, and cooled the flames.  The waters began to froth, and things began to rise out of the waves.

Now the Asuras and Devas were growing tired.  So Vishnu manifested on either end of their long line holding Vasuki, as both a Deva and Asura, and as a parent would secretly aid their children in a difficult task, secretly lent his strength to the churning.  Vishnu was able to keep his help secret because when the Devas and Asuras grew tired, they were also helped by every other being - this helped the Devas and Asuras confuse the strength of Vishnu with their own.

(It should be clear by now that Vishnu might have churned the ocean by himself.  But only the Devas and Asuras could build their own friendship).

Now the fish fled the area: the halahala (poison) began to rise from the ancient ocean floor, threatening to hurt Vishnu - and destroy every world by ending Time (Vishnu is Time).  Vishnu began to worry: only Shiva could save him from the halahala: Vishnu called out to Shiva to take the poison, "Shiva accepts everything!"  Sacrificing the poison to Shiva, Vishnu sacrificed his own defeat: in the nick of time, Shiva commanded the Ganas to gather the poison, and Shiva drank it all up.  Gauri, his literal "other half" manifested as Bhavani, and choked him, so that the poison would not enter his body, or leave his mouth, but stay in his throat until it could be purified.  Nandi, his vehicle and extension, licked up the drops of poison that dribbled from Shiva's mouth before they caused much harm.

Now the ocean began to yield its treasures: Kamadhenu (a wish-granting cow), Varuni (intoxication), Ucchaisravas (a horse-vehicle of light, the Apsaras, the moon, and much more.  Both the Devas and Asuras equally received great treasure from the churning, and even gave each other gifts of the treasures they were earning in expressions of friendship and love.  This delighted Vishnu.

But then, just as Vishnu was growing too tired to continue his work (remember, the Asuras and Devas were "helping" Vishnu, but not enough to actually accomplish the churning), he manifested Dhanvantari, a manifestation of medicine as a physician, bearing Amrita, and Vishnu thus tended his own strain and wounds.  And that of the Devas and Asuras too.  The churning continued.

Now, they exerted a little more and from their "second wind" of determination out of the ocean rose Laxmi, Vishnu's love and wife.  In this moment of her re-making, she did not recognize where she was for a moment, or anything about her: then she saw Vishnu, and remembering her love for him, went to his side, as if she had always been there.  She then helped in the churning, sitting atop the mountain (which is now on every side of Vishnu), she brought the Ganga, and all the rivers, and precious fruits, and dance, and all kinds of other refreshment, rest and recreation, to renew everyone's effort.  The Vedas were chanted, and the work continued - but then the Asuras saw that Dhanvantari, the physician, was using the amrita to treat everyone!

(See how Vishnu had tricked the Asuras and Devas to keep working, after the amrita rose - so that Laxmi might be churned out of the ocean?).

The Asuras began to fight over the amrita, and could not decide who should drink first, or how much share everyone should get.  But then suddenly, they became aware of an embodiment of Seduction: Vishnu manifested as Mohini, and approached.  Bali was overcome by Seduction and mindlessly gave the amrita to Mohini, "please, share this among us as would be fair?"

Mohini studied the Asuras carefully, as if about to attack them.  Then she said, "I am Seduction.  Haven't you heard that I am dangerous?  And yet you think I am your friend?  You come near to me, and stay by me, and even ask my help?  So be it.  I will help you - but only if you do whatever I say, whether or not it seems right or wrong."  The Asuras, totally overcome by Seduction, agreed.

Mohini made the Devas and Asuras assemble in a hall, which was made to be as romantic as possible.  There, she continued her work of seduction, and the Asuras and Devas grew insane with desire.  Mohini's loose clothes occasionally slipped, revealing everything; she flirted with the Asuras, and promised them everything.  Then, when the Asuras were sufficiently crazed, she was satisfied: they were utterly defeated by her seduction, when they understood this, they would be humiliated.  So she sat the Asuras on one side, and the Devas on the other.  She poured the Amrita for the Devas first, taking her time, while looking over her shoulder at the Asuras, and flirting with the Asuras.  Though the Asuras were now quite impatient, they waited, not wanting to upset Mohini.  Except Rahu.

Rahu, the Asura, saw the trick of Mohini, and made himself appear like a Deva.  He snuck across the hall to sit with the Devas, between the Surya (sun) and Soma (moon).  Mohini was too distracted by her work of seduction to notice that Rahu was not what he seemed - until Surya and Soma cried out!  In an instant, Rahu drank the Amrita, and in the same instant, Mohini drew a Chakra (a frisbee-like razor weapon, which is associated with Vishnu) and cut off Rahu's head - but because he had already tasted the Amrita, Rahu's head was immortal.  Rahu flew off into the sky, and Vishnu recognized Rahu's achievement, and permitted him that victory.  Yet even today, Rahu, Soma and Surya continue their squabble, and occasionally, Rahu will eclipse them, though frequently Soma and Surya chase Rahu from the sky.

The Asuras did not even notice this chaotic event, so taken were they with Mohini.  It was not until the Devas had drunk all the Amrita that the Asuras noticed none was left for them.  Vishnu took his usual form.  Realizing they had been tricked, the Asuras attacked the Devas - and Vishnu.  Vishnu, with a firm gentleness and kindness, drove them back until the domains of the Devas and Asuras were restored to how they were before the wars.  But, in chasing the Asuras to their home, Mohini herself was lost to the insanity of seduction: the Asuras were quick learners, and had learned Seduction from Vishnu!  In Patala, their home, the Asuras and their wives and husbands now seduced Vishnu, capturing Vishnu!

Vishnu, still as Mohini, had practiced seduction, but unwisely, not practiced the defense against seduction.  In response, she used the only weapon in her hand: and counter attacking seduction with seduction, the Asuras and Vishnu were driven insane.  Thus, Vishnu would have remained in Patala forever, ensnared by desire, if Shiva had not followed after Vishnu and tried to rescue him.  Both Mohini and her captors attacked Shiva - in the insanity, no one wanted Vishnu to leave!  The Devas chased after Shiva to try to rescue Shiva, but then themselves became overcome by desire in the seduction of Mohini and all the Asuras.  After the Devas came the Yakshas, Rakshasas, and all the other beings of every world - each would-be rescuer themselves overcome.  Soon, every being was then in Patala, writhing in desire.  Even Shiva began to weaken.  Shiva understood what needed to be done - but before he himself was overcome, he had to destroy Mohini's beautiful form.

At last, for a moment, the trance was broken, and Shiva was able to carry Vishnu, and all the beings of every world, back to where they all belonged.  Vishnu apologized, and Shiva forgave him - Vishnu was not invincible, after all.  Shiva warned everyone to stay away from Patala - it was not a place easy to escape from!

Mohini, of course, had other adventures before this, and many other adventures afterward: Vishnu is Time, and not bound by Time.  Previously, Shiva helped Vishnu perfect the form of Mohini, permitting Vishnu to test the weapons of seduction on him before using them on the Asuras and Devas (Vishnu thought that if Shiva could be overpowered, he, Vishnu, could overpower anyone).  And even with the help of Gauri, Shiva could not withstand Mohini - and when Shiva spontaneously lost control of his semen, it was taken by the wind to his wife, and Hanuman was born.  When Gauri could not restrain Shiva, Shiva captured Mohini, and they coupled: from this coupling, Ayappan the tiger-rider was born.

But those other stories cannot be told here, without confusing digression.

So, now, the Devas believed they had again triumphed, and this was the end to war.  Shiva saw this, and approached them, and tried to help them: he showed them how, from the beginning, Vishnu had set them up, and explained the play.  Vishnu was their friend, it was true, but Vishnu was also the friend of the Asuras - and neither (even together) could have churned the ocean: it was all Vishnu's doing.  Shiva explained to them the means of lasting peace, but they were not able to fully understand what Shiva was telling them.  Not yet.  Shiva grew frustrated - even the Asuras knew what happened, and blamed Vishnu for their misfortune - how could the Devas not understand Vishnu's role in their success?

Shiva also tried to explain to the Asuras that Vishnu was, nevertheless, their friend too, showing them the ways that Vishnu had helped them in the past, and present, the gentleness and kindness shown - and how even the Devas blamed Vishnu for their suffering, and had to have sought Vishnu's help in recovering their vigor and ability of resurrection, how Vishnu had tricked Indra with the bees so that the Asuras could regain their home ... but like the Devas, the Asuras were not quite ready to understand everything Shiva was trying to teach them.

Some beings are able to learn by the simple instructions of Shiva, but others find it necessary to learn by guided experiences, such as the "plays" of Vishnu.

Forehead ornamentation

The practice of forehead ornamentation originated out of the practice of making shiva lingams as described in the Lingam Purana: making one's hands, head and/or other parts of or the entire body a lingam was ritually signified by decorating it as such.  This practice was quickly adopted by Vaishnavas, and other devotees, becoming a ceremony of Bhakti Yoga: these non-Shaivites were not making "lingams," but used other symbology common to their own practices. 

But all these marks, once intended to be a symbol of impermanence, have left scars.  And it is in seeing these scars, and a rejection of all symbolic marks, that the achievement of their original purpose may be found.

As the practices were developed and explored, the symbols necessarily took on additional meanings.  During the several occupations of India, these symbols were utilized first as a way of distinguishing between various practitioners of Yoga, and then encouraged as a method by which Yogis might differentiate themselves from each other: sects were formed and politicized, dividing the people so that they might be easier to dominate.  Thus, these symbols became gradually associated with the Brahman varna (and the varnas themselves became a caste into which one was born, rather than attained with training, association and practice) at the same time that Yoga was encouraged to become more a centralized and organized religion (also to aid the occupations): what originally was intended as a marking of a Yogi undertaking Priestly duties necessarily changed when "Priest" became an occupation to which a Yogi would devote themselves to entirely, and practice, and even inherit.  Thus, ironically, the use of ash, or other powders intended to be very impermanent and liberating, easily manufactured to encourage the access of any person, were twisted into the support of a permanent and oppressive caste system, and to the exclusion of the majority of Yogis for the purpose of supporting a centralized and organized method of control.  The timeframe of this transformation was very long: things changed slowly, and subtly.  It has been a long time since the occupation ended: these tikas have persisted, and continue to take new symbolic meaning, both because of and in response to the emergent Hindu nationalist movement that brought about an end to the occupation.

The originally simplistic symbols were given complexity by rounding or curving lines and edges, or ornamenting the terminal points of lines: coloration and spacing became very important, as well.  Each variant became associated with different practices and expressed different association.  And sometimes are combined, to symbolize mutual association and recognition.  A u-shaped arc became associated with the Swamis who flourished during the British occupation during the late 18th Century: these Swamis professed a practice that was conducive to centralization, organization, and allegiance that the governors encouraged.  The long history of the monastic movement (dating back to the 6th century), and its rejection of Buddhism, and other pan-Hinduism, is too long to be simply remarked on here: it suffices to express that they developed their own symbology, and their use of this symbology encouraged others to adopt different and similar symbology.

Shaivites continue to utilize a basic form of three horizontal lines (as on a lingam).  Vaishnavas continue to utilize a basic form of vertical lines. Swamis continue to use the U-shaped arc.  Shaktas continue to utilize a dot.  And so forth: circles, triangles, squares, arcs, crescents, crosses, and so many variants!  Honorary association typically is typically signified by a simplistic rendition of these basic forms.  And there is also an expression of no-mark, a blank forehead, a rejection of the entire practice wherein decorations are only rarely used, or not used at all.

As these forms were abstracted and complicated, there also arose a counter-movement toward the use of these decorations by non-Brahmans, both as a socio-political expression against the occupation's caste system and central organization, and also as a way of expressing casual association or alliance with the various groups using these symbols. 

The Bindi, or purely decorative mark, whether in the form of a jewel or precious powder (makeup), arose as a stylistic expression of this counter-reaction.  The no-mark also arose from this counter-reaction: the restoration of practices by which it is through self-control and effort that one becomes a Brahman, capable of Priestly duties of sacrifice, the rejection that only Brahmans are capable of sacrifice and other Priestly duties, seemed to require rejecting what became a symbol contrary to these practices and celebrating what is uniquely symbolic of other Varna - it was a way of expressing a rejection of all Varna, an expression of the sacrifice of Varna.  Additionally, as the Swamic rejection of Buddhism was itself rejected, Buddhist practices of no-marking were adopted - for various reasons.  Even as some Buddhists adopted the practice of marking their foreheads with symbols of their own.

Today, the reason a person bears these marks is highly personal - sometimes to express one thing or another, or nothing at all.  The highly radical practices of jewelled bindis has become (to a great degree) entirely secular practice, as unsymbolic as merely decorating the face with lipstick or dying the hair. 

How do you decorate yourself?  When?  And why?