28 February 2010

The Great Lenten Fast Part Two: The Lenten Triodion Paschal Cycle

Liturgically, the period of the Triodion can be divided into three sections: (1) the Pre-Lenten period, (2) the Great Forty Days, and (3) Holy Week.

Before the forty days of Great Lent commence, there is a three-week Pre-Lenten season, to prepare the faithful for the spiritual work they are to accomplish during the Great Fast. During this period many of the themes which will be developed in the liturgical texts of the forty days are introduced. Each week runs from Monday to Sunday and is named for the Gospel theme of the Sunday which concludes it.

In the Slavic tradition, with the addition of Zacchaeus Sunday, some regard the pre-Lenten period as lasting four weeks, but there are no liturgical indications that the week following the fifth Sunday before Lent (whether preceded by Zacchaeus Sunday or otherwise) is in any way Lenten, because Zacchaeus Sunday falls outside the Triodion, the liturgical book which governs the pre-Lenten period and Lent itself.

In the Slavic liturgical traditions, Zacchaeus Sunday occurs on the fifth Sunday before the beginning of Great Lent (which starts on a Monday). Though there are no materials provided in the Lenten Triodion for this day, it is the very first day that is affected by the date of the upcoming Pascha (all the preceding days having been affected by the previous Pascha). This day has one sole Pre-Lenten feature: the Gospel reading is always the account of Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10, for which reason this Sunday is referred to as "Zacchaeus Sunday" (though the week before is not called "Zacchaeus week"). This reading actually falls at the end of the lectionary cycle, being assigned to the 32nd Week after Pentecost. However, depending upon the date of the upcoming Pascha, the readings of the preceding weeks are either skipped (if Pascha will be early) or repeated (if it will be late) so that the readings for the 32nd Sunday after Pentecost always occur on the Sunday preceding the Week of the Publican and the Pharisee.

In the Byzantine ("Greek") liturgical traditions, the Gospel reading for Zacchaeus remains in the normal lectionary cycle and does not always fall on the fifth Sunday before Lent.

The Lenten significance of the Gospel account of Zacchaeus is that it introduces the themes of pious zeal (Zacchaeus' climbing up the sycamore tree; Jesus' words: "Zacchaeus, make haste"), restraint (Jesus' words: "come down"), making a place for Jesus in the heart ("I must abide at thy house"), overcoming gossip ("And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner"), repentance and almsgiving ("And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold"), forgiveness and reconciliation ("And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham"), and the reason for the Passion and Resurrection ("For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost").

The Epistle reading for Zacchaeus Sunday is 1 Timothy 4:9-15, which in and of itself has no Lenten theme, other than as an admonition to righteous behaviour.

The reading on the Sunday which concludes this week is the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is the first day the Lenten Triodion is used (at Vespers or All-Night Vigil on Saturday night), though it is only used for the Sunday services, with nothing pertaining to weekdays or Saturday. The theme of the hymns and readings on this Sunday is dedicated to the lessons to be learned from the parable: that righteous actions alone do not lead to salvation, that pride renders good deeds fruitless, that God can only be approached through a spirit of humility and repentance, and that God justifies the humble rather than the self-righteous. The week which follows the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is a fast-free week, to remind the faithful not to be prideful in their fasting as the Pharisee was (Luke 18:12).

The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is also the first day that structural changes (as opposed to simply substituting Lenten hymns for normal hymns from the octoechos or menaion) are made to the Sunday services.

The theme of this week is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Again, the Triodion does not give propers for the weekdays. The Gospel Reading on Sunday lays out one of the most important themes of the Lenten season: the process of falling into of sin, realization of one's sinfulness, the road to repentance, and finally reconciliation, each of which is illustrated in the course of the parable.

The Saturday of this week is the first Saturday of the Dead observed during the Great Lenten season. The proper name in the typikon for the Sunday of this week is The Sunday of the Last Judgment, indicating the theme of the Gospel of the day (Matthew 25:31-46). The popular name of "Meatfare Sunday" comes from the fast that this is the last day on which the laity are permitted to eat meat until Pascha (Orthodox monks and nuns never eat meat).

During Cheesefare Week the eating of dairy products is permitted on every day (even Wednesday and Friday, which are normally observed as fast days throughout the year), though meat may no longer be eaten any day of the week. On the weekdays of this week, the first Lenten structural elements are introduced to the cycle of services on weekdays (the chanting of "Alleluia", the Prayer of Saint Ephrem, making prostrations, etc.). Wednesday and Friday are the most Lenten, but some Lenten elements are also observed on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Cheesefare Saturday has no Lenten elements to it (as, in fact, is true of Saturdays throughout the Lenten period), but the hymns of the day celebrate the "Holy Ascetic Fathers". That is to say, all of the Holy Fathers (and Holy Mothers) who have shown forth in the monastic life.

Cheesefare Week is concluded on Cheesefare Sunday. The proper name for this Sunday is The Sunday of Forgiveness, both because of the Gospel theme for the day (Matthew 6:14-21) and because it is the day on which everyone asks forgiveness of their neighbor. The popular name of "Cheesefare Sunday" derives from the fact that it is the last day to eat dairy products before Pascha. On this Sunday, Eastern Christians identify with Adam and Eve, and forgive each other in order to obtain forgiveness from God, typically in a Forgiveness Vespers service that Sunday evening. During Forgiveness Vespers (on Sunday evening) the hangings and vestments in the church are changed to somber Lenten colours to reflect a penitential mood. At the end of the service comes the "Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness" during which all of the people one by one ask forgiveness of one another, that the Great Fast may begin in a spirit of peace. During the ceremony the choir chants the Irmoi from the Canon of Pascha.

The forty days of Great Lent last from Clean Monday until the Friday of the Sixth Week. Each of the Sundays of Great Lent has its own special commemoration, though these are not necessarily repeated during the preceding week. An exception is the Week of the Cross (the Fourth Week), during which the theme of the preceding Sunday—the Veneration of the Cross—is repeated throughout the week. The themes introduced in the Pre-Lenten period continue to be developed throughout the forty days.

The first week of Great Lent starting on Clean Monday, the first day of Great Lent. The name "Clean Week" refers to the spiritual cleansing each of the faithful is encouraged to undergo through fasting, prayer, repentance, reception of the Holy Mysteries and begging forgiveness of his neighbor. It is also traditionally a time for spring cleaning so that one's outward surroundings matches his inward disposition.

Throughout this week fasting is most strict. Those who have the strength are encouraged to fast completely, eating only on Wednesday and Friday evenings, after the Presanctified Liturgy. Those who are unable to keep such a strict fast are encouraged to eat only a little, and then only xerophagy (uncooked food) once a day. Meals are served on Saturday and Sunday, but these are fasting meals at which meat and dairy products are forbidden.

At Great Compline during the first four days of the Fast (Monday through Thursday) the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is divided into four parts and one part is chanted each night).

The First Saturday is called "St. Theodore Saturday" in honor of St. Theodore the Recruit, a fourth century martyr. At the end of the Presanctified Liturgy on Friday (since, liturgically, the day begins at sunset) a special canon to St. Theodore, composed by St. John of Damascus, is chanted. Then the priest blesses kolyva (boiled wheat with honey and raisins) which is distributed to the faithful in commemoration of the following miracle worked by St. Theodore on the First Saturday of Great Lent: Fifty years after the death of St Theodore, the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363), as a part of his general policy of persecution of Christians, commanded the governor of Constantinople during the first week of Great Lent to sprinkle all the food provisions in the marketplaces with the blood offered to pagan idols, knowing that the people would be hungry after the strict fasting of the first week. St Theodore appeared in a dream to Archbishop Eudoxius, ordering him to inform all the Christians that no one should buy anything at the marketplaces, but rather to eat cooked wheat with honey (kolyva).

The First Sunday of Great Lent is the Feast of Orthodoxy, which commemorates the restoration of the veneration of icons after the Iconoclast controversy, which is considered to be the triumph of the Church over the last of the great heresies which troubled her (all later heresies being simply a rehashing of earlier ones). Before the Divine Liturgy on this day, a special service, known as the "Triumph of Orthodoxy" is held in cathedrals and major monasteries, at which the synodicon (containing anathemas against various heresies, and encomia of those who have held fast to the Christian faith) is proclaimed. The theme of the day is the victory of the True Faith over heresy. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith" (1 John 5:4). Also, the icons of the saints bear witness that man, "created in the image and likeness of God" (Genesis 1:26), may become holy and godlike through the purification of himself as God's living image.

The First Sunday of Great Lent originally commemorated the Prophets such as Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. The Liturgy's Prokeimenon and alleluia verses as well as the Epistle and Gospel readings appointed for the day continue to reflect this older usage.

On the Second Sunday of Great Lent commemorates St. Gregory Palamas, the great defender of the Orthodox Church's doctrine of Hesychasm against its attack by Barlaam of Calabria.

The Veneration of the Cross is celebrated on the third Sunday. The veneration comes on this day because it is the midpoint of the forty days. The services for this day are similar to those on the Great Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). During the All-Night Vigil the priest brings the cross out into the center of the church, where it is venerated by the clergy and faithful. It remains in the center of the church through Friday of the week following (the Fourth Week of Great Lent).

This week is celebrated as a sort of afterfeast of the Veneration of the Cross, during which some of the hymns from the previous Sunday are repeated each day. On Monday and Wednesday of the Fourth Week, a Veneration of the Cross takes place at the First Hour (repeating a portion of the service from the All-Night Vigil of the previous Sunday). On Friday of that week, the veneration takes place after the Ninth Hour, after which the cross is solemnly returned to the sanctuary by the priest and deacon.

The Sunday which ends the fourth week is dedicated to St. John Climacus, whose work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent has been read throughout the Great Lenten Fast.

On Thursday of the Fifth Week, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is chanted. This is the longest Canon of the church year, and during the course of its nine Odes, most every person mentioned in the Bible is called to mind and tied to the theme of repentance. In anticipation of the Canon, Vespers on Wednesday afternoon is longer than normal, with special stichera added in honor of the Great Canon. The Great Canon itself is recited during Matins for Thursday, which is usually celebrated by anticipation on Wednesday evening, so that more people can attend. As a part of the Matins of the Great Canon, the Life of St. Mary of Egypt by St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (634 - 638) is read, for her example of repentance and overcoming temptation. On this day also is chanted the famous kontakion, "My soul, my soul, why sleepest thou..." by St. Romanos the Melodist. The next day (Thursday morning) a special Presanctified Liturgy is celebrated, and the fast is relaxed slightly (wine and oil are allowed) as consolation after the long service the night before.
Saturday of the Fifth Week is dedicated to the Theotokos (Mother of God), and is known as the "Saturday of the Akathist" because the Akathist to the Theotokos is chanted during Matins on that day (again, usually anticipated on Friday evening).

The Fifth Sunday is dedicated to St. Mary of Egypt, whose Life was read earlier in the week during the Great Canon. At the end of the Divine Liturgy many churches celebrate a "Blessing of Dried Fruit", in commemoration of St. Mary's profound asceticism.

During the Sixth Week the Lenten services are served as they were during the second and third weeks.
Great Lent ends at Vespers on the evening of the Sixth Friday, and the Lenten cycle of Old Testament readings is brought to an end (Genesis ends with the account of the burial of Joseph, who is a type of Christ). At that same service, the celebration of Lazarus Saturday begins. The resurrection of Lazarus is understood as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Jesus, and many of the Resurrection hymns normally chanted on Sunday (and which will be replaced the next day with hymns for Palm Sunday) are chanted at Matins on the morning of Lazarus Saturday.

Palm Sunday differs from the previous Sundays in that it is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church. None of the normal Lenten material is chanted on Palm Sunday, and fish is permitted in the trapeza. The blessing of palms (or pussywillow) takes place at Matins on Sunday morning, and everyone stands holding palms and lit candles during the important moments of the service. This is especially significant at the Great Entrance during the Divine Liturgy on Palm Sunday morning, since liturgically that entrance recreates the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The themes of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday are tied together, and some of the same hymns (including one of the apolytikia) are chanted on both days. The Holy Week services begin on the night of Palm Sunday, and the liturgical colours are changed from the festive hues of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday back to somber Lenten colours.

Although technically, Holy Week is separate from Great Lent, its services mirror those of Great Lent and are contained in the same book, the Lenten Triodion. Whereas, during Great Lent each week has its own theme, during Holy Week each day has its own theme, again based upon the Gospel readings for the day:
Holy and Great Monday—Joseph the all-comely as a type of Christ, and the account of The Fig Tree (Matthew 21:18-22)
Holy and Great Tuesday—the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
Holy and Great Wednesday—The anointing of Jesus at Bethany (Matthew 26:6-16)
Holy and Great Thursday—The Mystical Supper
Holy and Great Friday—The Passion
Holy and Great Saturday—The Burial of Jesus and the Harrowing of Hell

During Holy Week, the order of services is often brought forward by several hours: Matins being celebrated by anticipation the evening before, and Vespers in the morning. This "reversal" is not something mandated by the typicon but has developed out of practical necessity. Since some of the most important readings and liturgical actions take place at Matins, it is celebrated in the evening (rather than early in the morning before dawn, as is usual for Matins) so that more people can attend. Since during Holy Week Vespers is usually joined to either the Presanctified Liturgy or the Divine Liturgy, and since the faithful must observe a total fast from all food and drink before receiving Holy Communion, it is celebrated in the morning (Vespers on Good Friday is an exception to this, usually being celebrated in the afternoon).

The Matins services for Holy Monday through Thursday are referred to as "Bridegroom Prayer" because the troparion of the day and the exapostilarion (the hymn that concludes the Canon) develop the theme of "Christ the Bridegroom" (Thursday has its own troparion, but uses the same exapostilarion). The icon often displayed on these days depicts Jesus as the Man of Sorrows, and is referred to as the Bridegroom because the crown of thorns and the robe of mockery are parallel to the crown and robe worn by a bridegroom on his wedding day (Thursday has its own icon showing either the Mystical Supper or the Washing of Feet, or both). The Passion of Christ is seen as the wedding of the Saviour with his bride, the Church.

The first three days of Holy Week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday), the services all follow the same pattern and are nearly identical to the order followed on weekdays during the Great Forty Days; however, the number of Kathismata (sections from the Psalter) is reduced and the Old Testament readings are taken from different books. The Presanctified Liturgy is celebrated on each of the first three days, and there is a Gospel reading at each one (during the Forty Days there was no Gospel reading unless it was a feast day). There is also a Gospel reading at Matins on each day and the Canon chanted at Matins is much shorter, consisting of only three or four odes rather than the usual nine.

In addition to the Gospel readings at Matins and Vespers, there is a reading of all four Gospels which takes place during the Little Hours (Third Hour, Sixth Hour and Ninth Hour) on these first three days. Each Gospel is read in its entirety and in order, beginning with Matthew 1:1, and continuing through John 13:30 (the rest of the Gospel of John will be read during the remainder of Holy Week). The Gospels are divided up into nine sections with one section being read by the priest at each of the Little Hours.

The Prayer of Saint Ephrem is said for the last time at the end of the Presanctified Liturgy on Holy and Great Wednesday. From this moment on, there will be no more prostrations made in the church (aside from those made before the epitaphios) until Vespers on the afternoon of Pentecost.

In some churches, the Holy Mystery (Sacrament) of Unction is celebrated on Holy and Great Wednesday, in commemoration of the anointing of Jesus' feet in preparation for his burial (Matthew 26:6-13).

The remaining three days of Holy Week retain a smaller degree of Lenten character, but each has elements that are unique to it.

Holy and Great Thursday is a more festive day than the others of Holy Week in that it celebrates the institution of the Eucharist. The hangings in the church and the vestments of the clergy are changed from dark Lenten hues to more festive colours (red, in the Russian tradition). Whereas the Divine Liturgy is forbidden on other Lenten weekdays, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil (combined with Vespers) is celebrated on this day. Many of the standard hymns of the Liturgy are replaced with the Troparion of Great Thursday. In some churches, the Holy Table (altar) is covered with a simple white linen cloth, in commemoration of the Mystical Supper (Last Supper). During this Divine Liturgy, the reserved Mysteries are renewed (a new Lamb being consecrated, and the old Body and Blood of Christ being consumed by the deacon after the Liturgy). Also, when the supply of Chrism runs low, it is at this Liturgy that the heads of the autocephalous churches will Sanctify new Chrism, the preparation of which would have been begun during the All-Night Vigil on Palm Sunday.

After the Liturgy, a meal is served. The rule of fasting is lessened somewhat, and the faithful are allowed to partake of wine in moderation during the meal and use oil in the cooking.

That night, the hangings and vestments in the church are changed to black, and Matins for Great and Holy Friday is celebrated.

Holy and Great Friday is observed as a strict fast day, on which the faithful who are physically able to should not eat anything at all. Some even fast from water, at least until after the Vespers service that evening.
The Matins service (usually celebrated Thursday night) is officially entitled, "The Office of the Holy and Redeeming Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ",[4] and is commonly known as the "Matins of the Twelve Gospels", because interspersed throughout the service are twelve Gospel readings which recount the entire Passion of Christ from the Last Supper to the sealing of the tomb. Before the Sixth Gospel (Mark 15:16-32) which first mentions the Crucifixion, the priest carries a large cross into the center of the church, where it is set upright and all the faithful come forward to venerate it. The cross has attached to it a large icon of the soma (the crucified body of Christ) At the beginning of each Gospel, the bell is rung according to the number of the Gospel (once for the first Gospel, two for the second, etc.). As each Gospel is read the faithful stand holding lighted candles, which are extinguished at the end of each reading. However, after the twelfth Gospel, the faithful do not extinguish their candles but leave them lit and carry the flame to their homes as a blessing. There, they will often use the flame to light the lampada in their icon corner.

On the morning of Great Friday, the Royal Hours are served. This is a solemn service of the Little Hours and Typica to which antiphons, and scripture readings have been added. Some of the fixed psalms which are standard to each of the Little Hours are replaced with psalms which are of particular significance to the Passion.

Vespers on Good Friday is usually celebrated in the afternoon, around the time of Jesus' death on the Cross. After the Little Entrance the Gospel reading is a concatenation of the four Evangelists' accounts of the Crucifixion and the Descent from the Cross. At the point during the reading which mentions Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, two clergymen approach the large cross in the center of the church, remove the soma, wrap it in a piece of white linen, and carry it into the sanctuary. Later, during the Troparion, the clergy carry the epitaphios (a cloth icon symbolizing the winding sheet in which Jesus was prepared for burial) into the center of the church, where it is venerated by all the faithful.

That night, the Matins of Lamentation is normally celebrated in the evening.

Holy and Great Saturday (known also as the Great Sabbath, because on it Jesus "rested" from his labours on the Cross) combines elements of deep sorrow and exultant joy. This, like Good Friday is also a day of strict fasting, though a meal may be served after the Divine Liturgy at which wine (but not oil) may be used.
The Matins of Lamentation (usually celebrated on Friday evening) resembles the Orthodox funeral service, in that its main component is the chanting of Psalm 118 (the longest Psalm in the Bible), each verse of which is interspersed with laudations (ainoi) of the dead Christ. The service takes place with the clergy and people gathered around the epitaphios in the center of the church. Everyone stands holding lighted candles during the psalm. Next are chanted the Evlogitaria of the Resurrection, hymns which are normally chanted only on Sundays. This is the first liturgical mention of the impending Resurrection of Jesus. At the end of the Great Doxology the epitaphios is carried in procession around the outside of the church, and then is brought back in. As the clergy carrying the epitaphios enter back into the church, they raise the epitaphios at the door, so that all may pass under it as they enter in, symbolically entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel (Matthew 27:62-66) is not read at its normal place during Matins, but instead is read at the end of the service, in front of the epitaphios.

The next morning (Saturday), the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated (combined with Vespers). At the beginning of the service, the hangings and vestments are still black. The service is much longer than usual, and includes 15 Old Testament readings recounting the history of salvation, and showing types of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Many parts of the liturgy which are normally chanted in front of the Holy Doors are instead done in front of the epitaphios. Just before the Gospel reading, the hangings and vestments are changed to white, and the entire atmosphere of the service is transformed from sorrow to joy. In the Greek practice, the priest will strew the entire church with fresh bay leaves, symbolizing Christ's victory over death. This service symbolizes the Descent of Christ into Hades and the Harrowing of Hell. Thus, according to Orthodox theology, Jesus' salvific work on the Cross has been accomplished, and the righteous departed in the Bosom of Abraham have been released from their bondage; however, the Good News of the Resurrection has not yet been proclaimed to the living on earth (this will occur during the Paschal Vigil). For this reason, the faithful do not yet break their fast nor exchange the paschal kiss.

At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the priest will bless wine and bread which are distributed to the faithful. This is different from the Sacred Mysteries (Holy Communion) which were received earlier in the service. This bread and wine are simply blessed, not consecrated. They are a remnant of the ancient tradition of the church (still observed in some places) whereby the faithful did not leave the church after the service, but were each given a glass of wine, and some bread and dried fruit to give them strength for the vigil ahead. They would listen to the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, read in full, and await the beginning of the Paschal Vigil.
The last liturgical service in the Lenten Triodion is the Midnight Office which forms the first part of the Paschal Vigil. During this service the Canon of Great Saturday is repeated, at the end of which the priest and deacon take the epitaphios into the sanctuary through the Holy Doors and lay it on the Holy Table (altar), where it will remain until the feast of the Ascension. After the concluding prayers and a dismissal all of the lights and candles in the church are extinguished, and all wait in silence and darkness for the stroke of midnight, when the resurrection of Christ will be proclaimed.

27 February 2010

The Great Lenten Fast Part One: Duration, Purpose, and Observance

The Great Lent, or the Great Fast, is the most important fasting season in the church year in Eastern Christianity, which prepares Christians for the greatest feast of the church year, Pascha (Easter). In many ways Great Lent is similar to Lent in Western Christianity. There are some differences in the timing of Lent (besides calculating the date of Easter) and how it is practiced, both liturgically in the public worship of the church and individually.

One difference between Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity is the calculation of the date of Easter. Most years, the Eastern Pascha falls after the Western Easter, and it may be as much as five weeks later; occasionally, the two dates coincide. They will in 2010 and 2011. Like Western Lent, Great Lent itself lasts for forty days, but unlike the West, Sundays are included in the count. Great Lent officially begins on Clean Monday, seven weeks before Pascha (Ash Wednesday is not observed in Eastern Christianity) and runs for 40 contiguous days, concluding with the Presanctified Liturgy on Friday of the Sixth Week. The next day is called Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday. However, fasting continues throughout the following week, known as Passion Week or Holy Week, and does not end until after the Paschal Vigil early in the morning of Pascha (Easter Sunday).

The purpose of Great Lent is to prepare the faithful to not only commemorate, but to enter into the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. The totality of the Orthodox life centers around the Resurrection. Great Lent is intended to be a "workshop" where the character of the believer is spiritually uplifted and strengthened; where his life is rededicated to the principles and ideals of the Gospel; where fasting and prayer culminate in deep conviction of life; where apathy and disinterest turn into vigorous activities of faith and good works. Lent is not for the sake of Lent itself, as fasting is not for the sake of fasting. Rather, these are means by which and for which the individual believer prepares himself to reach for, accept and attain the calling of his Savior. Therefore, the significance of Great Lent is highly appraised, not only by the monks who gradually increased the length of time of the Lent, but also by the lay people themselves. In the Orthodox Church, asceticism is not exclusively for the "professional" religious, but for each layperson as well, according to their strength. As such, Great Lent is a sacred Institute of the Church to serve the individual believer in participating as a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. It provides each person an annual opportunity for self-examination and improving the standards of faith and morals in his Christian life. The deep intent of the believer during Great Lent is encapsulated in the words of Saint Paul: "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14).

Observance of Great Lent is characterized by abstinence from certain foods, intensified private and public prayer, self-examination, confession, personal improvement, repentance and restitution for sins committed, and almsgiving. The foods traditionally abstained from are meat and dairy products, fish, wine and oil. Since strict fasting is canonically forbidden on the Sabbath and the Lord's Day, wine and oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays. If the Great Feast of the Annunciation falls during Great Lent, then fish, wine and oil are permitted on that day.

Besides the additional liturgical celebrations described below, Orthodox Christians are expected to pay closer attention to and increase their private prayer. According to Orthodox theology, when asceticism is increased, prayer must be increased also. The Church Fathers have referred to fasting without prayer as "the fast of the demons" since the demons do not eat according to their incorporeal nature, but neither do they pray.

Great Lent is unique in that, liturgically, the weeks do not run from Sunday to Saturday, but rather begin on Monday and end on Sunday, and most weeks are named for the lesson from the Gospel which will be read at the Divine Liturgy on its concluding Sunday. This is to illustrate that the entire season is anticipatory, leading up to the greatest Sunday of all: Pascha.

During the Great Fast, a special service book is used, known as the Lenten Triodion, which contains the Lenten texts for the Daily Office (Canonical Hours) and Liturgies. The Triodion begins during the Pre-Lenten period to supplement or replace portions of the regular services. This replacement begins gradually, initially affecting only the Epistle and Gospel readings, and gradually increases until Holy Week when it entirely replaces all other liturgical material (during the Triduum even the Psalter is eliminated, and all texts are taken exclusively from the Triodion). The Triodion is used until the lights are extinguished before midnight at the Paschal Vigil, at which time it is replaced by the Pentecostarion, which begins by replacing the normal services entirely (during Bright Week) and gradually diminishes until the normal services resume following the Afterfeast of Pentecost.

On weekdays of Great Lent, the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated, because the joy of the Eucharist (literally "Thanksgiving") is contrary to the attitude of repentance which predominates on these days. However, since it is considered especially important to receive the Holy Mysteries (Holy Communion) during this season, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts—also called the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Dialogist— may be celebrated on weekdays. Technically, this is not actually a Divine Liturgy, but rather a Vespers service at which a portion of the Body and Blood of Christ, which was reserved the previous Sunday, are distributed to the faithful. Most parishes and monasteries celebrate this Liturgy only on Wednesdays, Fridays and feast days, but it may be celebrated on any weekday of Great Lent. Because the Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on weekdays, it is replaced with the Typica, even on days when the Presanctified Liturgy is celebrated. On Saturday and Sunday the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated as usual. On Saturdays, the usual St. John Chrysostom is celebrated; on Sundays the more solemn and penitential Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is used.
The services of the Canonical Hours are much longer during Great Lent. In addition to doubling the number of Psalms read, the structure of the services is different on weekdays. In the evening, instead of the normal Compline (the final service before retiring at night), the much longer service of Great Compline is chanted. In the Greek practice, ordinary Compline is chanted on Friday night together with the Akathist to the Theotokos (Mother of God). The Akathist is divided into four sections and one section is chanted on each of the first four Friday nights of Great Lent. Then the Akathist is chanted in its entirety at Matins in the Fifth Saturday. In the Slavic usage, Great Compline is chanted on Friday night—though some parts are read rather than sung as they are on other weeknights, and some Lenten material is replaced by non-Lenten hymns—and the Akathist is not chanted until Matins of the fifth Saturday.

An interesting difference between the Eastern and Western observances is that while in the West the chanting of Alleluia ceases during Lent, in the East its use is increased. This is because for the Orthodox, fasting should be joyous (cf. Matthew 6:16), and the sense of unworthiness must always be tempered with hope in God's forgiveness. In fact, days which follow the Lenten pattern of services are referred to as "days with Alleluia". This theme of "Lenten joy" is also found in many of the hymns of the Triodion, such as the stichera which begin with the words: "The Lenten Spring has dawned!..." (Vespers Aposticha, Wednesday of Cheesefare Week) and "Now is the season of repentance; let us begin it joyfully, O brethren..." (Matins, Second Canon, Ode 8, Monday of Cheesefare Week).

The making of prostrations during the services increases as well. The one prayer that typifies the Lenten services is the Prayer of Saint Ephrem, which is said at each service on weekdays, accompanied by full prostrations. One translation of it reads:
O Lord and master of my life! a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition and idle-talking, give me not.
But rather, a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience and charity, bestow upon me Thy servant.
Yea, my king and Lord, grant me to see my own failings and refrain from judging others: For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.
The public reading of Scripture is increased during Great Lent. The Psalter (Book of Psalms) is normally read through once a week during the course of the Daily Office; however, during Great Lent, the number of Psalms is increased so that the entire Psalter is read through twice during each of the Six Weeks (during Holy Week it is read through once). Readings from the Old Testament are also increased, with the Books of Genesis, Proverbs and Isaiah being read through almost in their entirety at the Sixth Hour and Vespers (during Cheesefare Week, the readings at these services are taken from Joel and Zechariah, while during Holy Week they are from Exodus, Ezekiel and Job). Uniquely, on weekdays of Great Lent there is no public reading of the Epistles or Gospels. This is because the readings are particular to the Divine Liturgy, which is not celebrated on weekdays of Great Lent. There are, however, Epistles and Gospels appointed for each Saturday and Sunday.

During the Great Fast, the church also increases its prayer for the dead, not only reminding the believer of his own mortality, and thus increasing the spirit of penitence, but also to remind him of his Christian obligation of charity in praying for the departed. A number of Saturdays during Great Lent are Saturdays of the Dead, with many of the hymns of the Daily Office and at the Divine Liturgy dedicated to remembrance of the departed. These Saturdays are:

  • The Saturday of Meatfare Week
  • The Second Saturday of Great Lent
  • The Third Saturday of Great Lent
  • The Fourth Saturday of Great Lent

In addition, the Litya, a brief prayer service for the departed, may be served on each weekday of Great Lent, provided there is no feast day or special observance on that day.

Since the season of Great Lent is moveable, beginning on different dates from year to year, accommodation must be made for various feast days on the fixed calendar (Menaion) which occur during the season. When these feasts fall a weekday of Great Lent, the normal Lenten aspect of the services is lessened to celebrate the solemnity.

The most important of these fixed feasts is the Great Feast of the Annunciation (March 25), which is considered to be so important that it is never moved, even if it should fall on the Sunday of Pascha itself (a rare and special occurrence which is known as Kyrio-Pascha). The fast is also lessened, and the faithful are allowed to eat fish (unless it is Good Friday or Holy Saturday). Whereas on other weekdays of Great Lent, no celebration of the Divine Liturgy is permitted, there is a Liturgy (usually the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) celebrated on Annunciation—even if it falls on Good Friday.

When the feast day of the patron saint of the parish church or monastery falls on a weekday of Great Lent, there is no Liturgy (other than the Presanctified), but fish is allowed at the meal. In some churches the feast of a patron saint is moved to the nearest Saturday (excluding the Saturday of the Akathist), and in other churches, it is celebrated on the day of the feast itself.

When some other important feast occurs on a weekday, such as the First and Second Finding of the Head of John the Baptist (February 24), the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (March 9), etc., it is usually combined with the Lenten service, and wine and oil are allowed at the meal.

Regardless of the rank of the feast being celebrated, the Lenten hymns contained in the Triodion are never omitted, but are always chanted in their entirety, even on the feast of the Annunciation.

On the Saturdays, Sundays, and a number of weekdays during Great Lent, the service materials from the Triodion leave no room for the commemoration of the Saint of the day from the Menaion. In order that their services not be completely forgotten, a portion of them (their canon at Matins, and their stichera from "Lord I Have Cried" at Vespers) is chanted at Compline.

In addition to the added readings from Scripture, spiritual books by the Church Fathers are recommended during the Fast.

One book commonly read during Great Lent, particularly by monastics, is The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which was written in about the seventh century by St. John of the Ladder when he was the Hegumen (Abbot) of St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai. The theme of The Ladder is not Great Lent itself, but rather it deals with the ascent of the soul from earth to heaven; that is, from enslavement to the passions to the building up of the virtues and its eventual theosis (union with God), which is the goal of Great Lent. The Ladder is usually read in the trapeza (refectory) during meals, but it may alternatively be read during the Little Hours on weekdays so that everyone can hear. Many of the laity also read The Ladder privately during Great Lent.
Besides the Ladder, in some monasteries the Paradise of the Holy Fathers by Palladius and the penitential sermons of St. Ephrem the Syrian are read during Matins.

26 February 2010

Tibet Is No Shangri-La and the Dalai Lama is not what you think.

In the popular imagination, Tibet is a land of snow-capped mountains and sweeping vistas, fluttering prayer flags, crystal blue skies, saffron-robed monks spinning prayer wheels, and, perhaps most of all, timelessness. And likewise, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet and its chief emissary to the West, is a man of abiding wisdom and compassion, an inspiration and moral compass, a beacon of calm in a frenetic modern world. Set aside the fraught politics of this contested region. If one word sums up what Tibet means to the West it is this: purity.

That sensibility was entrenched long before Hollywood stars like Richard Gere and Stephen Seagal made Tibetan freedom a cause célèbre -- most famously in the 1933 British novel Lost Horizon, a fictional account of excursions among lamaseries in the Himalayas, where the protagonist encounters a people who are forever happy, mystically content, slow to age, and isolated from most ills that trouble the human race. Author James Hilton (whose other notable work is Goodbye, Mr. Chips) depicts "Shangri-la," a monastery nestled in a misty mountain valley; its name has since become synonymous with earthly paradise.

Tibet's enduring hold on Western minds -- together with the energetic, globe-trotting advocacy of the Dalai Lama -- helps explain why the concerns of the region's minority population are so familiar to so many so far away. (By comparison, it took violence in the streets of Urumqi to awaken foreign readers to the agitation of another of China's minority groups, the Uighurs.) In the Washington, D.C., neighborhood where I live, more than a few homes have decorative Tibetan prayer flags strung sentimentally across balconies and backyard porches. Next week, U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to meet with the Dalai Lama in the Oval Office -- over the inevitable protests of Chinese authorities.

Besides being the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama is also the author of dozens of religious and self-help books, from The Art of Happiness to The Universe in a Single Atom, published in multiple languages; he drops in to visit political leaders in European capitals and entertainment moguls in Los Angeles. He has received the Nobel Peace Prize and twice been named to Time magazine's list of the "100 Most Influential People." The first in his lineage to ever travel to the West, the Dalai Lama has managed to build an impressive multinational media and public relations. (Such is his fame and prestige that some recent awards to His Holiness appear motivated largely to bring good publicity to the donor; the town of Wroclaw, Poland, offered the Dalai Lama honorary citizenship in 2008; Memphis, Tennessee, extended a similar offer last September.)

But how much do Westerners really know about the Dalai Lama? His advocacy of an ethos of compassion and environmental protection are popular among his largely left-leaning Western admirers, while his more socially conservative views tend to be either unknown, or selectively ignored. (Christopher Hitchens is one of the few to have taken exception.) He is basically anti-abortion (except in rare circumstances) and ambivalent about homosexuality; his 1996 book, Beyond Dogma, was strikingly explicit in its sexual prohibitions: "A sexual act is deemed proper when the couples use the organs intended for sexual intercourse and nothing else." In recent years, his remarks on the subject have somewhat softened: he told an audience in San Francisco that while Buddhist teachings historically discourage gay relationships, such prohibitions only apply to Buddhists. (He has also written, rather confusingly, "Homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact.")

As for Tibet itself, it's no Shangri-la.

That is to say, there was no real place named Shangri-la until recently, when the city of Zhongdian (Gyalthang in Tibetan) changed its name to recall Hilton's paradise. In truth, the modern city is not quite a dreamscape. Situated on an alpine plateau, in a location resembling that of Lost Horizon, the modern city of 130,000 is divided into an "old" and "new" town. The new town came first. It resembles many midsize Chinese cities that have arisen in recent decades, with hastily erected concrete apartment blocks and glass storefronts. The old town, however, was built entirely in the last decade years; it has "quaint" cobbled streets and wooden storefronts, and when I visited last fall, I stayed in a rustic lodge, with a wood-burning stove and a sloppy dog who slept on the steps. All this is pleasant fabrication for tourists like myself, catering to what we expect to find.

Shangri-la isn't even in Tibet proper; it's situated in the far north of China's Yunnan province. (The region where Tibetans live actually spans parts of five Chinese provinces, and is known as "greater Tibet .") Han Chinese tourists from the country's wealthy eastern cities, who now are becoming more curious about Tibetan lands and culture, also come here to take in the view. They roll in on large tour buses and stay in luxury hotels in the new town, with banquet halls and karaoke bars. Chinese tourists generally spend little time in Shangri-la and instead book guided day trips to take in the dramatic scenery. Western tourists stay in old-town lodges, and stock their backpacks and suitcases with hand-sewn Tibetan coats, jade jewelry, prayer wheels and other trinkets, and profess more interest in the Tibetan people.

Tibetans, for their part, have discovered that there is money to be made from the outside world's interest in them. That is to say, they are more worldly than we typically give them credit for. In Shangrai-la, some of the most enterprising and entrepreneurial Tibetans can be found running tour shops that cater, alternately, to both Western and Chinese expectations. When I visited the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery just outside of town, there was, improbably, a large construction site in the center of the grounds, with cranes erecting new facilities for the recent surge in tourism.

It is dangerous to generalize from chance encounters, but the young Tibetans I met there were less ethereal, and more down-to-earth, than our mythology suggests. Near the central square in "old" Shangri-la, a 21-year-old Tibetan named Tashi was sitting on the steps outside a travel agency, waving a cigarette. "It's bad for my health, but it looks sexy," he said. Tashi was wearing a black Adidas jacket, tight jeans, and had short spiky gelled hair. He told me he fancies himself a discerning connoisseur of global sexiness from the many American movies he's watched. He was also, he mentioned, distraught about Michael Jackson's death, and, cigarette in hand, showed off his version of the moonwalk. At night, he and his friends hung out playing chess and drinking coffee and beer at new bars downtown.

Judging by appearances, the new generation of Tibetans seems, in a superficial sense, rather un-Tibetan. But that, too, is an oversimplification, as it became clear from talking to Tashi that he certainly thinks differently than Han Chinese his age. For one, he expressed little interest in Deng Xiaoping's famous invocation "to get rich is glorious," which is very nearly the closest thing there is to a unifying Chinese dream. For another, he told me that he and his family members continue to consult their lama, the equivalent of a priest in Tibetan Buddhism, about major life decisions. Recently that meant seeking the lama's spiritual appraisal of whether Tashi's sister should marry a pair of brothers then wooing her (Tibetan custom permits polygamy in certain circumstances involving siblings).

Many versions of Buddhism are practiced in China, some with tacit consent of the authorities, but Tibetan Buddhism has proved particularly difficult to integrate because, as with the Islam practiced by Uighurs, it invests authority in local religious leaders who rival the authority of local officials. On issues ranging from property rights to marriage customs, sparks may fly.

Tashi invited me to a Tibetan wedding reception, held in a modest banquet room in downtown Shangri-la, the wooden tables cluttered with bottles of hard liquor, 3-liter Coke bottles, six-packs of "Dali" beer (Dali is another city in northern Yunnan province), sunflower seeds, and trays of dumplings. The guests, mostly in their 20s, sat in plastic chairs laughing and smoking. The bride was wearing a traditional Tibetan costume, with her face painted and hair plaited. The others wore jeans, leather jackets, or hooded sweatshirts.

Everyone identified themselves as "Tibetan," although they hailed from different provinces in greater Tibet. The groom was from Qinghai; the bride was from Yunnan. They teased the handful of guests from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet proper, for being city slickers. The stereotype, among Tibetans, is that Lhasans are more educated, glamorous, and somewhat deceptive, while those from Yunnan, whose families came there as soldiers, are supposed to be straighter-shooters.

The political and territorial stakes are serious, and not likely to be resolved anytime soon. But there is also a gauziness with which the region and the man who represents it to the West are most often discussed. Even in the fast-paced and cynical 21st century, talk of Tibet still elicits a 19th century aura of romanticism and melancholy. In general, sentiment veils critical thinking. In the case of Tibet, our collective nostalgia, inexplicably, for a place most of us have never seen lends itself to a striking absolutism with which we discuss the place, its people, its present condition, its future destiny. While most things in life are murky and grey, the Tibet of our imagination is pristine, and the lines between good and evil are as clear as a mountain stream.

The reality is somewhat hazier, on all accounts.

25 February 2010

The Olympic Highway to Heaven: All Faiths Represented, Living in Peace

From modern Asian malls to the ‘Highway to Heaven’ with its churches, mosques, temples and historical landmarks, British Columbia’s Metro-Vancouver’s suburb city of Richmond, the only Canadian city surrounded by dykes, is a place worth visiting. Emitting the sounds ands aromas of the mysterious Orient as well as a religious aura and structures oozing stories from the past, the city of 188,000 is made up from 17 islands, half of which are still farmland, has much to lure the wayfarer.

Our tour group walked on Moncton Street in the town’s heritage area, where once 70 salons did a roaring business, before leaving for the Highway to Heaven experience. The heart of this ‘highway’ is Richmond’s No.5 Road, filled with numerous religious structures, their congregations practising their rites in the over 20 temples, mosques and churches. Of course our tour only covered a few of these houses of worship but they are a sample of what Richmond has to offer for those seeking the Highway to Heaven.

Our first was Jama’i Mosque, a Sunni Muslim house of worship with a plain exterior and interior, which can hold up to 700 worshippers. It was prayer time and the keeper of the mosque brought us chairs so that we could sit and watch the congregation at prayer. After prayer the Imam gave us a talk outlining the tenants of Islam, emphasizing how much women were respected in Islam. Other members of the congregation began to take part in the discussion trying to convey the message that Islam was a peaceful and tolerant religion.

Our next stop was at Gurdwara Gursikh Temple, where a woman guide in the Temple gave both the men and women scarves to cover our heads before we toured the building. In contrast to the mosque it was an ornate structure with pictures of the revered leaders of Sikhism, which derives much of its teachings from Hinduism and Islam.

We then sat down to lunch, offered by the ‘Temple’, free to all visitors. It was a fine tasty vegetarian Indian meal. As we ate the delicious food our guide talked about the history of Sikhism and its teachings, emphasizing somewhat the bravery and warrior aspect of the sect.

Leaving the Temple of Sikhism, we next made our way to the nearby Ling Yen Mountain Temple, a Buddhist monastery built in the Chinese palatial style. The temple has several dozen resident monks and nuns and some 10,000 members in Metro-Vancouver, many who are new converts to Buddhism. It is a splendid house of worship, colourfully decorated with lanterns, religious icons and statues. Our guide, Wei Shin, the Buddhist name of a Canadian convert to Buddhism said that like thousands of other Canadians who had converted to Buddhism life now made sense – he had found the essence of life in his new religion. Like other converts to a new religion, he oozed with enthusiasm when he talked about Buddhism.

We ended our tour at the International Buddhist Temple, a short distance from the Highway to Heaven, the first and largest authentic Chinese Buddhist temple, built in the exquisite traditional Chinese architecture style in North America. A magnificent temple, it houses the largest Buddha statue in North America and offers four grand halls, a serene classical Chinese garden with its gazebos, wisdom fountain, lotus ponds and dragon fountains.

Being revered by his followers in different ways, many statues of Buddha appear in various forms such as a sad Buddha, a smiling Buddha and a wise Buddha found in both inside and outside of the Temple. Buddha has stood the test of centuries and here on Canada’s western shores he is taking more followers on the Highway to Heaven. In the words of a woman in our group, “It seems to me that Buddhism and all other religions are on the Highway to Heaven. It’s great as long as they don’t push the others to the roadside.”

There are a good many other houses of worship in Richmond (such as Taoist temples, Christian parishes, and Jewish synagogues), Canada’s Oriental capital whose population is 65% Asiatic origin, their Oriental shopping malls concentrated in a section of town called the ‘Golden Village’ – a name that lured Asian immigrants, thinking the name would bring them affluence. These malls carry goods from Japan and Korea, but the vast majority of products for sale are Chinese, originating from mainland China and Taiwan, as well as a sprinkling of goods from other countries in the Far East.

One’s visit to Richmond would be short-changed if the Golden Village is omitted from an exploration of the city. Full of the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the Orient, the malls with their bakeries, cafes, restaurants and shops, constitute the core of the ‘Village’.

Within a four-block area one can find some 600 shops, the vast majority carrying the exotic products of the East, art galleries, jewellery outlets, teashops and the latest fashions and technical inventions, as well as eating-places, hotels and karaoke bars. It is a unique Asiatic world, only a few minutes from the Highway to Heaven.
Our journey on the Highway to Heaven that day was only a bare sampling of the many stops on this heavenly path. Perhaps even the drinkers in the 70 salons of the past if they came to life today will be redeemed should they take this Highway to Heaven. It is Canada’s contribution to multiculturalism in this world and the next.

The Vancouver International Airport is located in Richmond. A taxi from the Airport costs from $10.00 to $20.00 to any place in Richmond, but if you are staying at a hotel in Richmond, most have FREE airport shuttles.

The Golden Village is located in the City of Richmond, bordered by Sea Island Way, Garden City Road, Alderbridge Way and No. 3 Road. It is five minutes from the Vancouver International Airport – three bridges connect the airport area almost directly to the Golden Village

Visitors to the Golden Village have countless choices in restaurants, food courts and other types of eating-places – it’s an Asiatic gourmet world, featuring the top dishes eaten in the Orient. Some travellers say that the best Chinese food in the world is to be found in the Golden Village in Richmond. It is said that the food at the Village’s restaurants is balanced in seasoning and appealing to the palate in flavour and quality and that it overshadows the same dishes prepared in Asia.

24 February 2010


Pranayama (Sanskrit: प्राणायाम prāṇāyāma) is a Sanskrit word meaning "restraint of the prana or breath". The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prāna, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, and "āyāma", to suspend or restrain. It is often translated as control of the life force (prana).  When used as a technical term in yoga, it is often translated more specifically as "breath control". Literal translations include A. A. Macdonell's "suspension of breath" and I. K. Taimni's "regulation of breath".

Some scholars distinguish between hatha and raja yoga varieties of pranayama, with the former variety usually prescribed for the beginner. According to Taimni, hatha yogic pranayama involves manipulation of pranic currents through breath regulation for bringing about the control of chitta-vrittis and changes in consciousness, whereas raja yogic pranayama involves the control of chitta-vrittis by consciousness directly through the will of the mind. Students qualified to practice pranayama are therefore always initiated first in the techniques of hatha pranayama.

Pranayama is mentioned in verse 4.29 of the Bhagavat Gita.

Prana is a subtle invisible force. It is the life-force that pervades the body. It is the factor that connects the body and the mind, because it is connected on one side with the body and on the other side with the mind. It is the connecting link between the body and the mind. The body and the mind have no direct connection. They are connected through Prana only and this Prana is different from the breathing you have in your physical body.

Yoga works primarily with the energy in the body, through the science of pranayama, or energy-control. Prana means also ‘breath.’ Yoga teaches how, through breath-control, to still the mind and attain higher states of awareness. The higher teachings of yoga take one beyond techniques, and show the yogi, or yoga practitioner, how to direct his concentration in such a way as not only to harmonize human with divine consciousness, but to merge his consciousness in the Infinite.

Pranayama is the fourth 'limb' of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga mentioned in verse 2.29 in the The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali discusses his specific approach to pranayama in verses 2.49 through 2.51, and devotes verses 2.52 and 2.53 to explaining the benefits of the practice. Patanjali does not fully elucidate the nature of prana, and the theory and practice of pranayama seem to have undergone significant development after him. He presents pranayama as essentially an exercise that is preliminary to concentration, as do the earlier Buddhist texts.

Many yoga teachers advise that pranayama should be part of an overall practice that includes the other limbs of Patanjali's Raja Yoga teachings, especially Yama, Niyama, and Asana.

According to the Pali Buddhist Canon, the Buddha prior to his enlightenment practiced a meditative technique which involved pressing the palate with the tongue and forcibly attempting to restrain the breath. This is described as both extremely painful and not conducive to enlightenment. According to the Buddhist scheme, breathing stops with the fourth jhana, though this is a side-effect of the technique and does not come about as the result of purposeful effort.

The Buddha did incorporate moderate modulation of the length of breath as part of the preliminary tetrad in the Anapanasati Sutta. Its use there is preparation for concentration. According to commentarial literature, this is appropriate for beginners.

For the Buddha, the most important aspect of breath meditation is the consciousness attending to the breath. Buddhist tradition in general has urged moderation in the area of manipulation of the breath.

Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress related disorders, improving autonomic functions, relieving symptoms of asthma, and reducing signs of oxidative stress. Practitioners report that the practice of pranayama develops a steady mind, strong will-power, and sound judgement, and also claim that sustained pranayama practice extends life and enhances perception.

Many yoga teachers recommend that pranayama techniques be practiced with care, and that advanced pranayama techniques should be practiced under the guidance of a teacher. These cautions are also made in traditional Hindu literature.

23 February 2010

Chinese New Year: Another Ancient Passover?

A conversation yesterday made me realize some curious similarities between Chinese New Year and the ancient Hebrew Passover. In a sense, traditional Chinese New Year is a passover.

To “celebrate the New Year” is literally, “pass (the) year” (过年). You can greet people with “Pass the year good!” (过年好!). In more traditional areas people still literally congratulate one another for “passing the year,” or perhaps, for being passed by the ‘Year.’ The annoying traditional songs looped in supermarkets for the last week – the Chinese equivalent of cheesy Christmas music overdose – feature the greeting, “Congratulations!” (恭喜!). But why do people start congratulating one another after midnight? What has passed?

“Pass the ‘year’” is a pun or play on the idea that the monster, called ‘Year,’ who comes out at New Year’s to eat people, has “passed” over. It’s as if to say, “Congratulations! The monster has passed you by!” This monster hates the colour red, and people adorn their doors with it across the top and down both sides, similar to what the ancient Hebrews did with lamb’s blood before the Exodus, so that God would “pass over” their homes during the night when God came to kill the firstborn of Egypt. These red banner sets are standard CNY decorations; even our door has them.

I suspect most people merely see these phrases and decorations as traditions vaguely meant to bring good luck/fortune and ward off bad. I don’t know what percentage of the population is even aware of the more traditional meanings (especially in the cities), perhaps like many Westerners don’t know why we have Christmas trees, hang red stockings, or where Santa Claus came from (many New Year traditions are dying out). But the roots of these particular Chinese traditions apparently involve adorning the lintel and door posts in red so that a mystical being will literally “pass” over the family without killing anyone… curious. I wonder which tradition is older: the Hebrew Exodus or the Chinese year monster., nián shòu (年兽).

I found it thrilling that Chinese New Year and Passover shared a few things in common. They are both spring festivals, and both mark the beginning of the calendar year through lunar calculations. It is very important for the Chinese traditionally to clean our houses before New Year. It is called “Spring Cleaning.” New Year Day gives us the chance to start anew. Families bustle and clean and then no more cleaning is allowed on New Year’s Day. Is it something like the Jewish tradition of clearing the yeast out of the house?

Many Chinese families place red banners over the top and sides of their main door to "ward off evil spirits." In Taiwan, they like to decorate their doors with seven-character couplets, gold characters over red strips. Why seven, the biblically perfect number? For the Jewish Passover, the blood of a lamb was applied to the top and posts of the main door so that the Angel of Death would "pass over" and spare the life of the firstborn. Why is red such an auspicious color for the Chinese anyway? Could it be because it is the color of blood, of redemption?

Some Chinese anthropologists may well come up to me and give me some perfectly well researched reason for why these traditions are just so. But do you know what I think? I think, the Lord, being the Master Artist that He is, has left an indelible mark, His imprint, His signature, His legacy—call it what you like—in this culture, as He has probably done with many other cultures.

I believe this because I know my God to be all-powerful, all-knowing, the ruler of ALL nations, and THE Creator of everything that is. One day, when the trumpets sound, and we are all “out of here”, we will meet Him face to face and finally see Him in His true light. Then He will tell us why these traditions are celebrated just so.

22 February 2010

Dharma. What isn't it?

The term dharma (Sanskrit: dhárma, Pāḷi dhamma) is an Indian spiritual and religious term that means one's righteous duty, or any virtuous path. A Hindu's dharma is affected by a person's age, class, occupation, and gender. In Indian languages it can be equivalent simply to religion, depending on context. The word dharma translates as that which upholds or supports, and is generally translated into English as law.

According to the various Indian religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, beings that live in accordance with Dharma proceed more quickly toward dharma yukam, moksha or nirvana (personal liberation). The antonym of dharma is adharma meaning unnatural or immoral.

In traditional Hindu society, dharma has historically denoted a variety of ideas, such as Vedic ritual, ethical conduct, caste rules, and civil and criminal law. Its most common meaning however pertains to two principal ideals: that social life should be structured through well-defined and well-regulated classes (varna), and that an individual's life within a class should be organized into defined stages (ashrama, see dharmasastra).

Dharma also refers to the teachings and doctrines of the founders of Buddhism and Jainism, the Buddha and Mahavira. In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma/dharma is also the term for "phenomenon".

From the Atharvaveda and in Classical Sanskrit, the stem is thematic, dhárma- (Devanāgarī: धर्म), and in Pāli, it takes the form dhamma. It is also often rendered dharam in contemporary Indian languages and dialects. It is used in most or all philosophies and religions of Indian origin—sometimes summarized under the umbrella term of Dharmic faiths—including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. It is difficult to provide a single concise definition for dharma, as the word has a long and varied history and straddles a complex set of meanings and interpretations.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism are called Hindu Dharma, Bauddha-Dharma, Jain-Dharma and Sikh dharma, respectively.

In the Rig veda, the belief (or observation) that a natural justice and harmony pervades the natural world becomes manifest in the concept of rta, which is both 'nature's way' and the order implicit in nature. Thus rta bears a resemblance to the ancient Chinese concept of tao and the Heraclitan or stoic conception of the logos.

This "power" that lies behind nature, and which keeps everything in balance became a natural forerunner to the idea of dharma as one can see in this early Vedic prayer. This idea laid the cornerstone of Dharma's implicit attribution to the "ultimate reality" of the surrounding universe, in classical Hindu.

The following verse from the Rig-Veda is an example where rta finds mention :
"O Indra, lead us on the path of Rta, on the right path over all evils." (RV 10.133.6)
The transition of the rta to the modern idea of Dharma occurs in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The Upanishads saw dharma as the universal principle of law, order, harmony, all in all truth, that sprang first from Brahman. It acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe. It is sat, truth, a major tenet of Hinduism. This hearkens back to the conception of the Rig Veda that "Ekam Sat," (Truth Is One), of the idea that Brahman is "Sacchidananda" (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). Dharma is not just law, or harmony, it is pure Reality. In the Brihadaranyaka's own words:
" Verily, that which is Dharma is truth.
Therefore they say of a man who speaks truth, 'He speaks the Dharma,'
or of a man who speaks the Dharma, 'He speaks the Truth.'
Verily, both these things are the same."
(Brh. Upanishad, 1.4.14) (2)
In the Mahabharata, Krishna defines Dharma as:
"Dhaaranaad dharma ity aahur dharmena vidhrtaah prajaah, Yat syaad dhaarana sanyuktam sa dharma iti nishchayah," or, "Dharma upholds both this-worldly and other-worldly affairs" (Mbh 12.110.11).
In moving through the four ashrams, or stages of life, viz. Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vaanprastha, Sanyaasa, a person also seeks to fulfill the four essentials (purusartha) of Kama (sensual pleasures), Artha (worldly gain), Dharma, and Moksha (liberation from reincarnation or rebirth). Moksha, although the ultimate goal, is emphasized more in the last two stages of life, while Artha and Kama are considered primary only during Grihastha. Dharma, however is essential in all four stages. As a puruṣārtha (human goal), Dharma can also be considered to be a lens through which humans plan and perform their interactions with the world. Through the Dharmic lens, one focuses on doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong, while the Kama perspective focuses on doing what is pleasurable (in many senses, not just sex) and avoiding pain, and the Artha perspective focuses on doing what is profitable (in many senses, not just money) and avoiding loss.

Dharma is also the name of a deity or "Deva" in charge of Dharma. Mythologically, he is said to have been born from the right breast of Brahma, is married to ten daughters of Daksha and fathers Shama, Kama and Harahsa. He is also the father of the celebrated Rishis Hari, Krishna, Nara-Narayana.

In the epic Mahabharata, he is incarnate as Vidura. Also, Dharma is invoked by Kunti and she begets her eldest son Yudhisthira from him. As such Yudhisthira is known as Dharmaputra. There is also an assimilation of God Dharma and Yama, the God responsible for the Dead.

In technical literature, e.g., in Sanskrit grammar, dharma also means "property" and dharmin means "property-bearer".In a Sanskrit sentence like shabdo 'nityaḥ , "sound is impermanent", "sound" is the bearer of the property "impermanence". Likewise, in the sentence iha ghataḥ, "here, there is a pot", "here" is the bearer of the property "pot-existence" - this shows that the categories of property and property-bearer are closer to those of a logical predicate and its subject-term, and not to a grammatical predicate and subject.

For many Buddhists, the Dharma most often means the body of teachings expounded by the Buddha. The word is also used in Buddhist phenomenology as a term roughly equivalent to phenomenon, a basic unit of existence and/or experience.

In East Asia, the translation for Dharma is 法, pronounced fǎ in Mandarin, beop in Korean, hō in Japanese, and pháp in Vietnamese. However, the term Dharma can also be transliterated from its original form.
The tradition says that the Buddha spent forty-nine days in the neighborhood of the Bodhi Tree. Then the two merchants en route from Orissa passed close by and were advised by the spirit of a dead relative to make offerings to the new Buddha, who was sitting at the foot of a certain tree. They offered honey cakes and sugar cane and "took refuge in the Buddha and his Dharma, thus becoming the first Buddhists and the first lay devotees in the world."

In this case, Gautama did not preach Dharma to the two men, but merely received their reverence and offerings. Worship of holy persons is nonsectarian, and does not involve subscribing to their ideas. The Buddhist lay cult is here shown developing naturally out of pre-Buddhist practices.

For practicing Buddhists, references to "Dharma" or Dhamma in Pali, particularly as "the" Dharma, generally means the teachings of the Buddha, commonly known throughout the East as Buddha-Dharma.

The status of Dharma is regarded variably by different Buddhist traditions. Some regard it as an ultimate truth, or as the font of all things which lies beyond the 'three realms' (Sanskrit: tridhatu) and the 'wheel of becoming' (Sanskrit: bhavacakra), somewhat like the Christian logos: this is known as Dharmakaya (Sanskrit). Others, who regard the Buddha as simply an enlightened human being, see the Dharma as the essence of the '84,000 different aspects of the teaching' (Tibetan: chos-sgo brgyad-khri bzhi strong) that the Buddha gave to various types of people, based upon their individual propensities and capabilities.

"Dharma" usually refers not only to the sayings of the Buddha, but also to the later traditions of interpretation and addition that the various schools of Buddhism have developed to help explain and to expand upon the Buddha's teachings. For others still, they see the Dharma as referring to the "truth," or the ultimate reality of "the way that things really are" (Tib. Cho).

The Dharma is one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism in which practitioners of Buddhism seek refuge, or that upon which one relies for his or her lasting happiness. The Three Jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, meaning the mind's perfection of enlightenment, the Dharma, meaning the teachings and the methods of the Buddha, and the Sangha, meaning those awakened beings who provide guidance and support to followers of the Buddha.

The Teaching of the Buddha also has six supreme qualities:
  1. Svakkhato (Pali) The Dharma is not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found through enlightenment and is preached precisely. Therefore it is Excellent in the beginning (Sīla — Moral principles), Excellent in the middle (Samadhi — Concentration) and Excellent in the end, the only end that could result through fate. (Pańña — Wisdom).
  2. Samditthiko (Pali) The Dharma can be tested by practice and therefore he who follows it will see the result by himself through his own experience.
  3. Akāliko (Pali) The Dharma is able to bestow timeless and immediate results here and now, though no matter which means of travel, for which there is no need to wait until the future or next existence.
  4. Ehipassiko (Pali) The Dharma welcomes all beings to put it to the test and to experience it for themselves.
  5. Opāneyiko (Pali) The Dharma is capable of being entered upon and therefore it is worthy to be followed as a part of one's life.
  6. Paccattam veditabbo viññūnhi (Pali) The Dharma may be perfectly realized only by the noble disciples (Pali: Ariyas) who have matured and who have become enlightened in supreme wisdom.
Knowing these attributes, Buddhists hold that they will attain the greatest peace and happiness through the practice of Dharma. Each person is therefore fully responsible to engage in their own practice and commitment.

Other uses include dharma, normally spelled with a small "d" (to differentiate), which refers to a phenomenon or constituent factor of human experience. This was gradually expanded into a classification of constituents of the entire material and mental world. Rejecting the substantial existence of permanent entities which are qualified by possibly changing qualities, Buddhist Abhidharma philosophy, which enumerated seventy-five dharmas, came to propound that these "constituent factors" are the only type of entity that truly exists. This notion is of particular importance for the analysis of human experience: Rather than assuming that mental states inhere in a cognizing subject, or a soul-substance, Buddhist philosophers largely propose that mental states alone exist as "momentary elements of consciousness" and that a subjective perceiver is assumed.

One of the central tenets of Buddhism, is the denial of a separate permanent "I", and is outlined in the three marks of existence. The three signs:
  1. Dukkha - Suffering ( way to end) (Pali: Dukkha),
  2. Anitya - Change/Impermanence (Pali: Anicca),
  3. Anatman - Not-Self (Pali: Annatta).
At the heart of Buddhism is the understanding of all phenomena as dependently originated.

Later, Buddhist philosophers like Nāgārjuna would question whether the dharmas (momentary elements of consciousness) truly have a separate existence of their own. (ie Do they exist apart from anything else?) Rejecting any inherent reality to the dharmas, he asked (rhetorically):
śūnyeṣu sarvadharmeṣu kim anantaṁ kimantavat
kim anantam antavac ca nānantaṁ nāntavacca kiṁ
kiṁ tad eva kim anyat kiṁ śāśvataṁ kim aśāśvataṁ
aśāśvataṁ śāśvataṁ ca kiṁ vā nobhayam apyataḥ 'tha
sarvopalambhpaśamaḥ prapañcopaśamaḥ śivaḥ
na kva cit kasyacit kaścid dharmo buddhena deśitaḥ|
When all dharmas are empty, what is endless? What has an end?
What is endless and with an end? What is not endless and not with an end?
What is it? What is other? What is permanent? What is impermanent?
What is impermanent and permanent? What is neither?
Auspicious is the pacification of phenomenal metastasis, the pacification of all apprehending;
There is no dharma whatsoever taught by the Buddha to whomever, whenever, wherever.
--Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, nirvṇānaparīkṣā, 25:22-24
According to S. N. Goenka, teacher of Vipassana Meditation, the original meaning of dhamma is "dhareti iti dharmma", or "that which is contained". Dharma in the Buddhist scriptures has a variety of meanings, including "phenomenon" and "nature" or "characteristic".

Dharma also means "mental contents," and is paired with citta, which means heart-mind.

The pairing is paralleled with the combining of kaya (body) and vedana (feelings or sensations which arise within the body but are experienced through the mind), in major sutras such as the Mahasatipatthana sutra.
Dharma is also used to refer to the teachings of the Buddha, especially the discourses on the fundamental principles (such as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path), as opposed to the parables and to the poems.

Dharma is employed in Ch'an (Zen) in a specific context in relation to transmission of authentic doctrine, understanding and bodhi; recognized in Dharma transmission.

Daena (din in modern Persian) is the eternal Law, whose order was revealed to humanity through the Mathra-Spenta ("Holy Words"). Daena has been used to mean religion, faith, law, even as a translation for the Hindu and Buddhist term Dharma, often interpreted as "duty" or social order, right conduct, or virtue. The metaphor of the 'path' of Daena is represented in Zoroastrianism by the muslin undershirt Sudra, the 'Good/Holy Path', and the 72-thread Kushti girdle, the "Pathfinder".

Daena should not be confused with the fundamental principle asha (Vedic rta), the equitable law of the universe, which governed the life of the ancient Indo-Iranians. For these, asha was the course of everything observable, the motion of the planets and astral bodies, the progression of the seasons, the pattern of daily nomadic herdsman life, governed by regular metronomic events such as sunrise and sunset. All physical creation (geti) was thus determined to run according to a master plan — inherent to Ahura Mazda — and violations of the order (druj) were violations against creation, and thus violations against Ahura Mazda. This concept of asha versus the druj should not be confused with the good-versus-evil battle evident in western religions, for although both forms of opposition express moral conflict, the asha versus druj concept is more systemic and less personal, representing, for instance, chaos (that opposes order); or "uncreation", evident as natural decay (that opposes creation); or more simply "the lie" (that opposes truth, righteousness). Moreover, in his role as the one uncreated creator of all, Ahura Mazda is not the creator of druj which is "nothing", anti-creation, and thus (likewise) uncreated. Thus, in Zoroaster's revelation, Ahura Mazda was perceived to be the creator of only the good (Yasna 31.4), the "supreme benevolent providence" (Yasna 43.11), that will ultimately triumph (Yasna 48.1).

In this schema of asha versus druj, mortal beings (humans and animals both) play a critical role, for they too are created. Here, in their lives, they are active participants in the conflict and it is their duty to defend order, which would decay without counteraction. Throughout the Gathas, Zoroaster emphasizes deeds and actions, and accordingly asceticism is frowned upon in Zoroastrianism. In later Zoroastrianism this was explained as fleeing from the experiences of life, which was the very purpose that the urvan (most commonly translated as the 'soul') was sent into the mortal world to collect. The avoidance of any aspect of life, which includes the avoidance of the pleasures of life, is a shirking of the responsibility and duty to oneself, one's urvan, and one's family and social obligations.

Thus, central to Zoroastrianism is the emphasis on moral choice, to choose between the responsibility and duty for which one is in the mortal world, or to give up this duty and so facilitate the work of druj. Similarly, predestination is rejected in Zoroastrian teaching. Humans bear responsibility for all situations they are in, and in the way they act to one another. Reward, punishment, happiness and grief all depend on how individuals live their life.

In Zoroastrianism, good transpires for those who do righteous deeds. Those who do evil have themselves to blame for their ruin. Zoroastrian morality is then to be summed up in the simple phrase, "good thoughts, good words, good deeds" (Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta in Avestan), for it is through these that asha is maintained and druj is kept in check.

Through accumulation several other beliefs were introduced to the religion that in some instances supersede those expressed in the Gathas. In the late 19th century the moral and immoral forces came to be represented by Spenta Mainyu and its Satanic antithesis Angra Mainyu, the 'good spirit' and 'evil spirit' emanations of Ahura Mazda respectively. Although the names are old, this opposition is a modern western-influenced development popularized by Martin Haug in the 1880s, and was in effect a realignment of the precepts of Zurvanism (Zurvanite Zoroastrianism), which had invented a third deity, Zurvan, in order to explain a mention of twinship (Yasna 30.3) between the moral and immoral. Although Zurvanism had died out by the 10th century the critical question of the "twin brothers" mentioned in Yasna 30.3 remained, and Haug's explanation provided a convenient defence against Christian missionaries who disparaged the Parsis (Indian Zoroastrians) for their 'dualism'. Haug's concept was subsequently disseminated as a Parsi interpretation, thus corroborating Haug's theory and the idea became so popular that it is now almost universally accepted as doctrine.

Achaemenid era (648–330 BCE) Zoroastrianism developed the abstract concepts of heaven, hell, personal and final judgement, all of which are only alluded to in the Gathas. Yasna 19 (which has only survived in a Sassanid era (226–650 CE) Zend commentary on the Ahuna Vairya invocation), prescribes a Path to Judgement known as the Chinvat Peretum or Chinvat bridge (cf: As-Sirāt in Islam), which all souls had to cross, and judgement (over thoughts, words, deeds performed during a lifetime) was passed as they were doing so. However, the Zoroastrian personal judgement is not final. At the end of time, when evil is finally defeated, all souls will be ultimately reunited with their Fravashi. Thus, Zoroastrianism can be said to be a universalist religion with respect to salvation.

In addition, and strongly influenced by Babylonian and Akkadian practices, the Achaemenids popularized shrines and temples, hitherto alien forms of worship. In the wake of Achaemenid expansion shrines were constructed throughout the empire and particularly influenced the role of Mithra, Aredvi Sura Anahita, Verethregna and Tishtrya, all of which, in addition to their original (proto-)Indo-Iranian functions, now also received Perso-Babylonian functions.

Although the worship of images would eventually fall out of favour (and be replaced by the iconoclastic fire temples), the lasting legacy of the Achaemenids was a vast, complex hierarchy of Yazatas (modern Zoroastrianism's Angels) that were now not just evident in the religion, but firmly established, not least because the divinities received dedications in the Zoroastrian calendar, thus ensuring that they were frequently invoked. Additionally, the Amesha Spenta, the six originally abstract terms that were regarded as direct emanations or aspects or "divine sparks" of Ahura Mazda, came to be personified as an archangel retinue.

For Sikhs, the word "Dharma" means the "path of righteousness". What is the "righteous path"? That is the question that the Sikh scriptures attempt to answer. The main holy scriptures of the Sikhs is called the Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS.) It is considered to be more than a holy book of the Sikhs. The Sikhs treat this Granth (holy book) as a living Guru. The holy text spans 1430 pages and contains the actual words spoken by the Sikh Gurus and various other Saints from other religions including Hinduism and Islam.

Sikh Dharma is a distinct religion revealed through the teachings of ten Gurus who are accepted by the followers as if they were spiritually the same. The Gurus are considered "the divine light" and they conveyed Gurbani (the word of God) in the form of the Guru Granth Sahib to the world. In this faith, God is described as both Nirgun (transcendent) and Sargun (immanent). Further, God pervades in His creation and is omnipresent, but cannot be incarnate. The principal Sikh belief lays stress on one's actions and deeds rather than people's religious labels, rituals or outward appearance or signs.

The primary object of a Sikh's life is to seek union with God and hence, liberation from the cycle of births and deaths (cycle of re-incarnation) which is dictated by a person's thought, deeds and actions in this life. Liberation can be achieved through meditating on God, truthful living and sharing ones wealth in the context of a normal family life and through divine grace. Amrit Pahul – Sikh baptism for both men and women – was instituted in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru. All Sikhs, on taking Amrit, are enjoined to lead a disciplined life by following a code of ethics leading to a "Saint-Soldier" way of life. In 1708, Guru Gobind Singh vested spiritual authority in the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh Scriptures) as the eternal Guru and hence Sikh Dharma acknowledges the end of human Guruship. At the same time, the temporal authority was vested in the Khalsa Panth (a community of Sikhs who have taken Amrit).

Other important aspects of a Sikh's life include Sewa (dedication to the service of God's creation) where the emphasis is often upon manual work, undertaking of goodwill towards other faiths and their followers, to defend for justice and assistance of the oppressed. In contrast to many other faiths, Sikhs believe that when all other means to achieve justice are exhausted, then it is just to wield the sword.

Congregational worship includes the following:

  • Paath - Reading of the Holy scriptures
  • Kirtan - Singing of Shabads (hymns).
  • Langar - A communal vegetarian meal also call free kitchen is an important feature of the Sikh way of life, and food is served to everyone at the end of a Sikh service.
  • Community Centre - Today, in most countries, a Gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, also serves as a centre to promote Sikh culture and such other needs of the community.
  • Ardas - Sikhs conclude their prayers by doing the Ardas and invoking God's blessings on everyone – not just on Sikhs.

The Guru Granth Sahib lays down the foundation of this "righteous path" and various salient points are found.
Sikh is bound by Dharma: The followers of this faith are bound by Dharma as advocated in their holy scriptures. The committed Sikh is encouraged to follow this path at all times. The first recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib called the Japji Sahib says the following: "The path of the faithful shall never be blocked. The faithful shall depart with honor and fame. The faithful do not follow empty religious rituals. The faithful people are fully bound to do whatever the Dharma wants them to do. Such is the Name of the Immaculate Lord. Only one who has faith comes to know such a state of mind."

Deeds are recorded: The persons thoughts and deeds are said to be recorded and the faithful is warned that these will be read out in the presence of the "Lord of Dharma". Two scribes called "Chitr and Gupt" 1 , the angels of the conscious and the subconscious mind are busy writing ones thought and deeds. On death the soul of the person he brought before "Lord of Dharma" are these account are read out as recoded in this quote: "Day and night are the two nurses, in whose lap all the world is at play. Good deeds and bad deeds - the record is read out in the Presence of the Lord of Dharma. According to their own actions, some are drawn closer, and some are driven farther away."

Dharma administered by God: The scriptures further outline how the "Judge of Dharma" administers justice depending on the way that one has conducted life on Earth. The soul is either "cleared" or "subject to God's command" depending on the review of the person history. The holy text says: "The Righteous Judge of Dharma, by the Hukam of God's Command, sits and administers True Justice" and those followers who "chant the name of the Lord" are cleared as outlined thus: "Her account is cleared by the Righteous Judge of Dharma, when she chants the Name of the Lord, Har, Har."

Dharma is natural. Jain Acharya Samantabhadra writes: "Vatthu sahavo dhammo" the dharma is the nature of an object. It is the nature of the soul to be free, thus for the soul, the dharma ia paralaukika, beyond worldly. However the nature of the body is to seek self-preservation and be engaged in pleasures. Thus there are two dharmas.
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