Human beings live in four different levels, which are mutually exclusive but interconnected. They are the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels, where every succeeding stage is considered as superior to the preceding one.
In the Hitopadesa, there is a verse which states that ‘food, sleep, fear and experience of carnal pleasures are common features of animals and human beings, whereas performance of one’s duties is the special quality of the latter. Without this quality, the latter stand on a level with beasts’. Thus, what distinguishes and elevates human beings from other lower levels of creation is their intellectual and spiritual nature. That is why these two are called ‘attainments’ and not merely ‘nature’ or ‘qualities’. For, one should make special efforts to attain or reach these two levels so as to be justifiably called human beings. These two attainments are the subject matter of our priceless spiritual literature, namely the Vedas.
The Vedas are not the composition of anyone person or even a specific group of people. They are the compositions of many sages who do not belong to any particular creed or cast, but who were all interested in finding out the nature of the vast universe and the derlying realities.
These sages did not give any name to the religion or philosophy they established (like Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Mohammedanism, which are named after their founders), but called Sanatana-dharma or ‘Eternal Religion’. It is also called ‘Vedic religion’ in some quarters.
The Vedas contain absolute truths and wholesome rituals which are 1st beneficial to all and which yield welcome results in the form if better intellectual capacity and higher spiritual awareness. Most of these rituals, when practised diligently over a period of time, gradually purify the practitioner’s body and mind and make him a better person.
Based on these rituals, many traditions have been built up in our country, allotting certain days in a week/ month / year, which have to be observed as a sort of vrata or penance. Among the most important of these vratas is the Ekadasi Vrata, which occurs twice l month on the eleventh day of both the dark and bright fortnights, .e. Krishna-paksha and Sukla-paksha.
This day is very dear to the supreme Lord, Mahavishnu. In fact, it is called ‘Haridina’ for this reason. All the Puranas unanimously declare that whoever observes vrata on this day by fasting the whole lay will receive the grace and blessing of Mahavishnu in abundant measure.
If one were to stress the importance of Ekadasi day, one can say that it is like the Purushasukta in the Vedas, Manusmriti among the Smritis, Vishnu Purana among the Puranas, Sage Valmiki among poets, Sage Vyasa among maharishis, Bhishma among righteous people. Arjuna among archers, the Ganges among rivers and the Gayatri among mantras. Not only does the Ekadasi Vrata give spiritual benefits, but it also cleanses the body and purifies the mind.
For those who want to have clear thinking and quick understanding of problems besides ideas on how to solve them, fasting on Ekadasi will be of immense benefit. This is borne out by many episodes in the Puranas. Lord Siva tells Parvati Devi in the Padma Purana :hat Ekadasi Vrata, observed in the proper manner, absolves one of past sins and, if done regularly, leads to the same merit as that accrues on performing the Asvamedha sacrifice.
Smt. Meenakshi Balu has come out with the right type of book which narrates the origin of the Ekadasi Vrata and also prescribes the correct method of observing it.
There are two ways of performing any ritual or observing a penance. One is to do it informally without any preparation in the normal course of duties. The other is to make a resolve (sankalpa) and do it consciously with full involvement of all senses and total awareness of the benefits of performing it.
Our acharyas have recommended the second method, particularly for all spiritual activities. Smt. Meenakshi Balu has given very detailed instructions as to how to go about observing the Ekadasi Vrata Pooja, which even a lay person can understand and adopt. She has taken care to use simple language both in Hindi and English versions, since this book is mainly intended for readers in North India.
Clear pictorial representations of actions such as mudras, offering arghyam, naivedyam, etc. add to the value of the book.
The author’s rich experience in interpreting Indian tradition and culture to persons living overseas has come in handy in compiling an effective ‘User’s Manual’ for Ekadasi Vrata. It is hoped that this publication will get an enthusiastic response from the public, which will lead to fine-tuning it in subsequent reprints.
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