The Essential Element Of Happiness – The Story Of Ganesh
The Full Discussion
Are you feeling disconnected from the divine, separate from people and the world around you? Through this story of the birth of Ganesh and the decision of Shiva to take form as Hanuman, we’ll explore how living a life of service can connect us to the divine and everything around us.
Welcome everyone, I’m your host Ashton Szabo and this is the Sivana podcast. Today’s episode is all about service.
How do we serve?
What does service do to us fundamentally?
What does service really mean?
How does one live a life of service?
We’ll dive into the story of Ganesha’s birth and talk about the importance of my favorite, Hanuman. It’s through these stories that we’ll speak of service in both the simplest, as well as the greatest forms, and how service can change our lives. Perhaps even something like living a life of service seems to obscure a nonspecific.
How does one actually do that?
Live a life of service?
It sounds like a great idea, but what does that look like next Tuesday?
Was does it look like when I have bills to pay?
If you grew up in the United States, chances are you’ve been raised on a diet of self-determination, getting to the top by yourself, getting your piece of the pie before someone snags it before you. We are run very much on the scarcity model. There is a limited amount of resources out there, of stuff, so you have to hustle to get it. It matters less who you step over on your way up to the top, because the happiness you seek is up there, and that’s what you’re trying to get. Get the goods. Get the money, the cars, the houses, the beautiful partner, the job, and you’ll be happy. Your happiness, so the system says, will come once you’ve acquired enough stuff to make you happy.
In the US, we’re fed this from a very early age. You’ve got to get good grades in school so you can get into a good college. Get good grades there so you can get a good job. The good job means you’ll make good money, and with good money you’ll have magically arrived and you’ll be happy. Oh and no, don’t follow your artistic passions by the way, they won’t make any money. If your passion doesn’t make a lot of money, well then you won’t be happy, so you can’t do that. Do the things that make you money.
Is it any wonder that Americans are so unhappy?
So stressed and filled with feelings of inadequacy?
When the principle life idea of our culture keeps us endlessly chasing after carrots, keeps us caught up in acquiring more and more for ourselves rather than supporting others. Look at people at the top, the people with money and power. Are they any happier than you?
Maybe, maybe not. Probably not. Any of the extremely wealthy people I’ve ever known, had just as many problems, if not more than the rest of us.
Now in fairness, Princeton did a study back around 2010 that said, income can play a role in happiness. All right, we live in the United States, money is a thing, so let’s just talk about it. And the study said, that the lower a person’s annual income fell below seventy five thousand dollars a year, the unhappier he or she felt. Anything more than seventy five thousand a year and happiness was not directly tied to income level.
But, this study was done by an analysis of close to four hundred fifty thousand Americans. Having personally spent significant time outside of the U.S. living in countries with a much lower standard of living-people living without electricity, or sometimes running water, people without access to the newest iPhones or cool trendy thing-a-ma-bob, and even in some of the toughest situations-I usually found people a lot happier than those I met walking around affluent areas of the United States. Simple fact of the matter. So there’s a whole conversation, multiple conversations to be had about happiness and the specifics of income and living standards and so forth.
But what we will learn today is what transcends all of that, and we have found a key that unlocks the door of joy and connection beyond your income, beyond what you do for a profession, beyond the color of your skin, or where you live. But before we get into that part of the story, we need some background. We need a story to create a backdrop for our other story, and that backdrop is actually the story of the birth of Ganesha, the beloved deity with the head of an elephant. He’s one of the most popular deities in the Asian subcontinent.
So once upon a time, up on Mount Kailash, was the home of Shiva and Parvati, the immortal couple. Shiva with his long dreadlocked hairand ash covered body, and the beautiful and innocent Parvati, lovers for eternity. Shiva had a tendency to spend extremely long periods of time higher up on the mountain, meditating in caves. Eons would pass without him breaking his focus, eyes closed, sitting in lotus posture as the seasons and cycles continued on and on.
It was one such time where Parvati, Shiva’s wife was left alone at their home. She was feeling sad about being left all alone for such long periods of time, and she decided that she wanted a child to share life with. Her husband was gone up higher on the mountain to meditate and who knows how long it would be before he returned.
So how could she conceive of a child?
Well as Shiva represents supreme consciousness, which underlies everything, she already had Shiva within her. We are all made up of pure consciousness. In this sense, we all have Shiva within us. And so too, Parvati has Shivah within her. And through her powers as a Goddess, she was able to bring together her essence, and the essence of Shivah inside of herself, to conceive a child.
She went through a regular pregnancy and after the usual time, a beautiful baby boy was born. And the baby grew, raised by his mother into a young boy. One day, while Parvati had decided to take her bath, she told her son to guard the door to their home and not let anyone in while she was bathing. Wanting to make his mother proud, the young boy stood up tall, puffed up his chest and he told his mother,
“Mother, I promise you. While I live, I will protect our home and make sure no one disturbs your bath.”
And Parvati embraced the boy with love and went off to take her bath.
Now of all of the days, and all of the times when Shiva could come home from his time away in meditation and ecstasy, this just so happened to be the time. Shiva was coming home with his friends, the ghanas; his posse, his crew. He was feeling a little rowdy. As he approached, expecting to see his wife, he instead saw a small boy guarding the door of his home. And the boy again stood up tall and puffed out his chest and said,
“Excuse me sir, but you’re not allowed into this home”.
Shiva paused for a moment. How dare this little boy tell Shiva where he could and could not go. Shiva is supreme, he can go where he wants. So Shiva looked back at his friends and let out a belly laugh.
“Little Boy, How dare you tell me what to do. Don’t you know who I am?” Shiva replied.
“No sir, I do not. All I know is that my mother told me not to let anyone in this house to disturb her”.
“Your mother?” Shiva replied.
Shiva took a second. He looked down on his fingers, kind of counted the days, weeks, and months of how long he was gone. For right away he realized he had been gone for a long time, much longer than the time of that boy’s life, and time in the womb. And a rage started to build up inside of him.
“Has my wife Parvati conceived a child with another man while I was away?” he thought to himself.
The thought further fuel his inner flames, in a rage, he spoke.
“Get out of my way boy, I will go where I please”.
The boy was clearly not afraid however, and showed no signs that he would make way for Shiva and his posse. But as if the boy was somehow beneath him, and not even worth his time, Shiva let loose his posse on the boy. The boy would be no match for him, of course, but perhaps he could provide some entertainment for his friends.
But to Shiva’s surprise the little boy starts to handle all of the ghanas. He’s dispatching them with ease, and Shiva gets a little nervous. This little boy is going to kill all of Shiva’s friends. So very sneakily, while the boy is engaged heavily fighting the ghanas, Shiva comes up behind the boy and quickly and violently cuts off his head.
The boy’s body falls lifeless and his head rolls at the feet of Shiva. In a fit, Shiva storms inside the house. But seeing only fire, Shiva was met with the coolest water. As he came inside the beautiful Parvati, still wet from her bath, stepped outside of the bathing room with joy on her face and love in her body. She’s so excited to see her husband that she speaks before he’s able to get a word of rage out.
“My love, you’re back! I’ve missed you so much! Did you see your son outside?”
A weight, as of being held above shook his head slammed violently down into his body. His face dropped in horror as the rage instantly formed in a confusion. As far as his rage had taken him away from himself and what was going on, he was instantly brought back to the moment with the simple love that Parvati held before him. But the moment made no sense to him,
“My son? What do you mean my son?” Shivah replied utterly confused.
“Your son, he was outside watching the door for me while I took my bath,” Parvi replied, very matter of factly.
The dots started to connect but Shiva was still confused. “The boy outside? About that…” Shiva explained what happened and Parvati was overcome with grief.
How could this happen?
How could Shiva, the all-knowing, the all-powerful, not even recognize his own son?
“You better fix this,” she said.
And so Shiva is left scrambling trying to figure out how to make the situation right again. All the other Gods come to his aid. Vishnu and Brahma are there. Everyone came to help him find a solution. Eventually, after some back and forth, they conceive a plan. And they’re going to take the head to the nearest animal and the life it contain placing it on the boy’s body, bringing him back to life.
So they all go out searching every which way and the first animal they come across is an elephant. The elephant, hearing what had happened, gladly offers his head so that the young boy can live again. The elephant took a bow, exposed his neck and let the sword slide and severs his head. They rush back to the body of the boy and place the head of the elephant on top. The boy was brought back to life and given the name Ganesha, Lord of the Ghanas.
Now the story does carry with it some of its own hidden symbols and meanings, and that’s something that could go further into its own context. But as I mentioned before the story, this story is merely a backdrop of our next, and so we’ll look at it from that context. It invites us to ask us what’s really going on here.
How could Shiva? Supreme consciousness, who is supposedly omnipotent and omnipresent, how could he not even recognize his own son?
So Shiva had been off in meditation, off in Samadhi, and these deep states of Samadhi are completely unlike our experience of the everyday mundane world. So you’ve got Shiva sitting up there in solitude on the mountain, literally disconnecting from everyday life, from his wife, from the world, and solitude creates a certain distance from life as we experience it normally. Because he is less connected to life, he’s more prone to anger and violence.
Why do political leaders try to divide us?
If you make someone feel disconnected from someone else, from a different group of people, then it’s easier for one person to harm another, or for one group to harm another. That is principally caused by a feeling of disconnection. Now, would Shiva had acted that way if he had known the little boy was his son?
Like the Greek and Roman Gods, Hindu deities are in some sense very much human. They are just like all of us. They have emotions and feelings, they get upset, they make mistakes. Because truly, the Gods are us. These stories are talking to us, about us, by us. Shiva realizes that he screwed up. He realizes how disconnected he was, and he wants to reestablish his connection to the world.
First he repairs the damage to his son, fix it, go find a head. Repair the damage done to the ego of his son by being so disconnected from him in the world. Help make his son whole again by connecting to him. Spend some freakin family time together. But Shiva still feels awful about what went down. He wants to make amends, further amends. And that’s what leads us to our next story.
Once upon a time, we can say that it happens right after the events we just spoke of. Shiva feeling a certain disconnect from the world and the desire to connect more to it, was sitting off near the edge of a cliff by his family home in Mount Kailash. He was sitting there chanting the name of “Rama.” When his wife Parvati approached him,
“Why on earth are you chanting the name of Rama?”
Shiva is supreme consciousness. Why would he be chanting the name of an avatar of Vishnu, the deity that represents the sustaining force of the universe? You see, Vishnu had recently incarnated into the world as Rama, as a force of Dharma and justice, to defeat the evil demon Ravana. But still, why would Shiva be chanting his name.
“I’m going to incarnate into the world and help serve my friend Vishnu.” Shiva told Parvati.
“What?!” she replied, “You just got back from spending ages away in meditation, your family has missed you, you couldn’t even recognize your own son, and you want to leave again?!”
“This is something I have to do”, Shiva told her.
But he wasn’t sure about his plan yet. He’s like, “Hey I’ve got this great idea, I’ve been disconnected from the world. Well then, I’ll go into the world. I’ll go hang out with my buddy Vishnu.
So he starts to hash out a plan.
“I don’t want to go as a human. Two Gods incarnate in the world, people might be confused on who to follow, who’s the head honcho. It would be a mess”.
And Shiva wants to go to support his friend, to serve him, not to be propped up beside him. So what to do?
“I know! I’ll become a simian,” Shiva said.
Simians are monkeys. They don’t need clothes or a roof over their head, their diet is simple, they’re extremely independent; it’s be perfect.
“Okay, if you’re going to go into the world, then I’m coming with you.” Parvati told Shiva.
“Whoa, whoa, slow down”, he said. “I’m going to be a bachelor babe. I can’t have a wife and a family to take care of. I want to devote my whole embodied existence to serving Rama. I can’t do that if I have other responsibilities.”
He told her trying to wiggle away from her idea.
“Well, if you don’t want me coming as your wife, then I will come as your tail,” she said.
Shiva was a little reluctant but he eventually agrees.
This is an important piece to touch on before we continue. On the common model of the chakras that we see in yoga, the chakras that reside inside the body along the spine-Kundalini, the Goddess Shakti, these are all forms of Parvati-resides at the base of the spine, and it’s her that moves up the spine piercing the chakras. But this is an inner experience.
Shiva, on the mountaintop before, drifting off into his inner worlds, the worlds of the chakras inside his body and beyond. But what do we have represented here? We have the Goddess Kundalini Shakti inside the tail. Effectively, outside the body. Because what can a tail do that a spine can’t? It can hang from things, it can wrap, it can reach, it can grab. It’s functional in the world. Shakti inside the body is an energetic experience that occurs in the inner worlds. But Shakti in the tail represents that energetic experience manifesting as utility in the everyday world, putting that energy of Kundalini, the energy of the chakras, to functional use. This is the path of yoga that brings us into the world.
Shiva, torn with guilt about not recognizing his own son, about feeling disconnected from the world, decides to reincarnate into the world as a monkey with Shakti as his tail, in order to serve Rama. Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu, who represents the force that supports and sustains the world and the universe.
So supreme consciousness coming into the world to serve that which supports all life.
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We, of course like all of these stories, are all of the characters. Shiva is us. We manifest into this world so we can connect and serve.
Now jumping across the story of Hanuman, like we’ve done before, what is the whole of his story speaking to?
Prince Rama has a wife, Sita, who’s been abducted by the demon Ravana. On one view, Sita, the individual soul, is separated from Rama, the divine soul, the Godhead, because she’s been abducted by Ravana. Ravana is the ego. Individual soul, divine self, separated by the ego.
Now we got caught up thinking we are this or that. When we are this or that, we also then want this or that, or not that or this, and we feel separate from those things. That’s the ego. Hanuman comes into the story to assist Rama in his quest to be reunited with Sita. Hanuman, who came into existence purely to serve Rama and to serve Dharma and that which supports all of life, acts as an agent of reuniting the individual soul in the divine self by helping to overcome the ego, Ravana.
From the Vishnava perspective, from the perspective of those who worship and follow the God Vishnu, the relationship with Raman and Hanuman is very much a subservient one. You’ve got this big god head over here. He’s all powerful, all perfect, all amazing, and you’ve got this lowly servant over here. All we could ever ask is to be like the servant because we can never be as great as the Godhead.
And you can find similarities here with the Christian God and faith, which says we can never be God, We can only have a relationship to God.
In this, in the model for that relationship here, in this story is one of service; a service to the big important Godhead, which you are not, but are only relating to. But the Shivites, the ones who see Shivah as the supreme, and the Tantrikas, they understand the story from a different perspective. The supreme, the absolute, ie: you, have incarnated into the world to serve. That service acts as a vehicle of connecting to the world and through that connection, reconciling the apparent separation that the individual soul feels from the divine self. But you are that. Even in service you are already the Godhead. You’re not relating to the divine, you are the divine already. Your service is a conscious choice to connect deeper into life.
You feel disconnected? Separate? Serve.
Your service will act to annihilate the ego and allow you to feel reunited with the supreme. But this takes us to something we touched on the beginning of the podcast. That all sounds great, I mean, yeah man, serve! Does that mean we all have to become Gandhi or Mother Teresa? Maybe it is our dharma to do something as grand as that. But service can also look very much like everyday life.
What is service at its core?
It’s a willingness to put someone else’s needs in front of your own. It’s precisely that willingness that annihilates the ego. It’s a willingness to put something other in front of the ego in the chain of priorities.
Now, holy crap! How do we do that all the time?
Well, don’t worry. Even Hanuman doesn’t do it all the time. Even Shiva, the supreme Godhead, sometimes stumbles and loses track. It’s okay, we’re not looking for some idealized dogmatic idea of perfect. We’re looking to be real.
If you’re a parent, you know all about service. You know all about the joys of putting someone else’s needs in front of your own, and you know all about stumbling and falling. We all make mistakes as parents all the time.
Have you’ve ever been in love? And in a romantic relationship chances are you’ve also known about service, about putting someone’s needs or even the idea of love, ahead of your ego’s wants and desires.
So the question that is most interesting, much more interesting in real than,
“How do I model each and every moment of my life to be more like Mother Theresa?
Or to constantly be giving everything of myself and have no ego whatsoever?”
The question, I think, that’s more interesting is actually, how in the little moments? Little interactions with the world. How can I serve in those moments more? Not how do I make myself perfect. How do I love all the time and forget my ego?
No, simply moment by moment, how can I serve more?
When given a chance of being able to help someone else or help myself, can I have the strength and courage to serve others more?
Maybe it’s the small task of helping out around the house more. Maybe it’s giving more support to your partner in the things they do. Maybe you can help your friend with that thing they’ve been asking you to do with them for the past few months. Maybe it’s helping to carry an elders bags across the street or walk them home. There are an infinite number of day to day tasks that we can all do to be more in service of something larger; larger than our egos, larger than our small self.
And even those small tasks, those little things that like, hey we’re not curing cancer over here, we’re just taking out the trash, cleaning up the house, whatever. Even those tasks can bring us closer to God, closer to the divine, closer to our highest self. It’s in that willingness to serve more that our lives are transformed. To live in that simply means to be willing to do more of the tasks that support and sustain others.
Does that mean you can never take care of yourself?
That you should always put others before you?
Those are levels of degrees that really are there for you to discover and to explore. No one else really has the right to tell you that you can’t take care of yourself, or that you shouldn’t also respect your own needs.
Again, the invitation of the story is not perfection, it’s not some idealized absolute. It’s a willingness. It’s a desire to do more, that’s it.
Serve more and watch how it changes your life and transforms the world around you.
Thank you all so much for staying with us and listening to our podcast today.
I hope you’ve learned a little something and been inspired to serve a little more.
This is the Sivana podcast, I’m Ashton Szabo, your host.
Please subscribe to our channel and leave us some honest reviews, we appreciate you!
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We really appreciate your feedback. Thanks again for listening. Namaste.
You’ve been listening to the Sivana podcast. To find out more about Sivana, go to sivanaspirit.com or follow Sivana on Facebook, at facebook.com/sivanaspirit. For daily inspiration, check out our blog at sivanaeast.com. Be sure to join us next week for a new episode and thank you for listening to the Sivana podcast.
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