The Tree of Knowledge
Touching the feet of parents, teachers, elders, etc., and worshipping their feet is the Hindu tradition. The normal way of worship at the temples and pooja mandirs consists of washing and offering flowers at the feet of the idol. A devotee intoxicated with divine love for the Lord holds on to the lotus feet of his ishtadevata with ecstasy and forgets all else. Padasevanam, or the service to the feet, is the unbroken custom of the Hindus.
Why so much importance to the feet? Is not our veneration for a person due to the qualities of his head or the heart? Then why worship the feet or prostrate before them? Though man is the manifestation of the Supreme Self, his ego makes himself forgetful. In the acquisition and enjoyment of material objects, the ego often stands up like a sore thumb, haughty and arrogant, greedy and lustful, hurting and getting hurt. Unless, this ego is bent, melted and eliminated in true humility and love, there is no chance of his ever realising his own true nature. Hence the importance of prostrating before revered persons and of the Lord. When the individual prostrates in love and reverence before the other, admiring their good qualities, he constantly thinks of their good qualities and develops those qualities within himself. One’s parents who lovingly sacrifice their own comforts for bringing up their children, the teachers who initiate the students into the mysteries of life, the elders whose exemplary life is a source of inspiration to society, and ancestors who gave the rich culture to our land are to be revered and adored by all good persons. In honouring them we honour ourselves. This is one of the ways of eliminating the bad tendencies within us and developing good qualities by constantly thinking of them.
Even when elders and parents are not so ideal in their way of life or thinking, still, the Hindu tradition enjoins us to touch their feet and show our humility, because this ensures the humility of a person and eliminates hostile behaviour. While thus contributing to the harmony in society and gradually erasing the ego a man lives on, he becomes ripe for spiritual sadhana. Less and less interested in mundane affairs and more inquisitive in the Creator of the world, the man gets attached to the pursuit of the spiritual goal. As per his nature the individual takes one of the paths advocated by scriptures, namely, jnana, bhakti, karma, yoga or tantra.
Except in Karma Yoga, in all other paths, the sadhana starts with devotion to the Guru and culminates in the realization of the Lord. Even after realizing the highest, the disciple ever feels his indebtedness to the Guru and remains dedicated to his feet. In the final stage when the disciple realises the Supreme, he discovers that his Guru had been none other than the Supreme Lord who came down in that shape to guide him.
Disciples are of three types – tamasic or unevolved ones, rajasic or restless ones and the sattvic or evolved students. The unevolved students have to serve the tea physically – massaging his feet, washing his clothes, preparing his food, etc. The daily close contact with the teacher and consistent devoted service cleanse their minds and the thick curtain of ignorance slowly gets torn. The rajasic or restless students are emotional and the attachment to the teacher is inordinate almost bordering on frenzy. They adore the teacher both physically and psychically and hold on to the lotus feet of the teacher as their sole refuge. Their reverence and constant contemplation on the teacher’s actions becomes a fine point of concentration and gradually the mind becomes calmer and quieter. Its restlessness subsides. They endeavour to please their teacher by ready and willing obedience and thereby become deeper sadhakas.
To the evolved students of sattvic nature, the teacher is a symbol for the Supreme self. The teacher stands supported by the lotus of Truth. Hence the feet of the teacher which are nearest to the lotus of Truth are themselves considered as lotuses and the student bows reverently to the Truth. He tries to see the same vision as the teacher by meditating constantly upon the words of wisdom uttered by the teacher. In tantra, great importance is shown to the Padadwand or the two feet of Sriguru. The Sriguru padukastava of Ad Sankaracharya makes an esoteric reference to tantric-worship. The dual aspects of the Supreme which expresses out a prakash and vimrsa, i.e. the motionless Illuminator and the Eternal Spreader are the two feet of the Supreme. They are worshipped together as two in one and one in two. Without illumination there is no knowledge and without spreading there is nothing to be known. Hence both are required for world perception. In Vedanta also, the term pada means the same thing in an esoteric sense. From moving it is called pada (padyate iti padah). The declaration of the Upanishad, asya padabhyma prithvi means from His movement is this stretching out (of the world).
In the path of devotion, the Lord’s feet are the sole refuge of the devotee – in the beginning by the Shastras in offering the sixteen services to the deity known as the upacharas. If his devotion be sincere and without any motives, the constant service purifies the mind and the love of the devotee becomes love divine. It knows neither limits nor conditions. An unbroken flow of love for the Lord emanates out of the ecstatic heart of the devotee. He holds on to the lotus of the Lord like a honeybee sucking honey out of the lotus. Singing lullabies to the Lord and waking Him up with sweet songs, the devotee speaks constantly of Him, glorifies him, in all his actions and thoughts. As his whole existence becomes a glorified dedication to the Lord, his physical actions become stilled and his mind stands still in hushed silence contemplating on him. The mind standing still in the ideas of the Lord is called bhavasamadhi. In that condition, the devotee is the lord Himself. When he comes out of that state, he is again melting in love, serving him in the idol and seeing all fellow beings as his manifestations. The blue expanse of the sky, the passing clouds, the thundering flashes of lightning, the singing of birds and the gurgling rivers all remind him of the lord. Looking at the mere earth, the gopis of Brindavan sing out in an exuberance of divine love.
As Boar, He gave sweet embrace
As Dwarf, he measured you by pace
As Vishnu, He took you as spouse
Mother, how lucky you are to be in His grace!
To sum up, padasevanam is the way and the goal of the Hindu, whatever may be the path that he treads in doing the sadhana.
Extracts from “Dewdrops of Divinity “by Swamini Saradapriyananda, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust
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