Full Moon vol 39: A Return to Innocence

Living Sanskrit Newsletters

Happy Full Moon! Today is one of our most famous celebration days of the year – Holī! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the moon – it’s particularly huge and spectacular this time of year.

Holī is actually a 2-day festival that begins today, and it’s based on a very powerful and deep story that you can read here.

[Spoiler Alert]

The short version of the tale is that there’s a cruel demon-king and his evil sister who can’t stand that the young prince Prahlāda is good-hearted and has deep love for the divine, specifically in the form of Lord Viṣṇu. They keep trying to hurt and kill him in various ways, until Bhagavān Viṣṇu assumes a wrathful, terrifying form to destroy the demon and set the young prince free.

Holī, specifically, is named after the evil sister – Holikā, who is the embodiment of spiritual pride and delusion. She had done quite a lot of practice and had even attained the ability to withstand fire. However, she tried to use her power to murder her innocent nephew, and ended up literally getting burned for it.

When we’ve done a lot of spiritual practice, we can lose the humility and sincerity with which we started if we’re not careful. And it’s easy to take teachings and twist them. For example, instead of recognizing that our human form is a small, beautiful part of the oneness of the entire universe, we could start to think that our human self is the source of the universe – that we are inherently superior to others and are entitled to have whatever we want.

Or, we might start to think ordinary rules and natural law doesn’t apply to us because we do spiritual practices – we get lost in magical thinking. And, if we’re really not careful, our subconscious fears can easily manipulate us into acting against truth and virtue. We feel justified and self-righteous no matter what we do, even when we’re just gratifying our unresolved fears and desires. “But how could I, as a devoted spiritual person, possibly cause harm? All I want to do is help.”

No matter what form spiritual delusion takes, it can only lead to our destruction, and almost always at our own hands. Holikā herself decides to sit in the fire that ultimately consumes her.

The burning of Holikā is the burning of spiritual delusion and shadow. It is becoming free of all the pride, selfishness, greed, and other nonsense that we might have acquired after many years on the path. The only thing that survives in that blazing fire is what is absolutely pure – the innocent childlike state of trust, humility, devotion, and sweetness.

On the Holī full moon, we light a great big bonfire. As the fire dies down, we place pots full of water on the hot coals and leave it there all night. In the morning, we bathe with that water, which symbolizes the purification of these prideful, demonic tendencies.

Then, on the next day, we become pure and innocent like children – we play in the streets, splashing each other with bright colors and getting into water gun fights. We play mischievous tricks on each other, we laugh and sing, eat all kinds of sugary sweets, and make a bright colorful mess of everything. Most of all, we don’t take anything too seriously and we trust that everything can and will be ok. And regardless of age, EVERYBODY plays, because that’s what Holī is all about!

Almost every spiritual tradition on earth praises the humble and pure mindset of a child, and how it is this attitude which will help us attain a full experience of the divine. On Holī, we give ourselves the opportunity to do just that.

Practice: Celebrate Holī

Traditional practices for today are:

Experience the burning of Holikā by lighting a bonfire (safely, please)! As the fire burns, let yourself experience that all of your pride, darkness, fear, and greed are burning, while your pure and innocent essence is being protected. You can also do pradakṣinā, where you walk around the fire clockwise out of respect.

Once the flames die down, place a pot of water on the coals and leave it out under the full moon. The next morning, you can use that water in your shower or bath, again experiencing that your inner pride and manipulative tendencies are being washed away.

Throw colors on each other. You can use non-toxic (and ideally organic) colored powder or paints. If nothing else, just turmeric and kumkum powder, or spraying each other with water guns is fine! The colors represent life energy, and splattering each other is a way of wishing each other vitality, good health, and beauty. If you want company, most major cities around the world have some sort of public Holī games available. And if nothing else, remember that any sort of childlike mischief is appropriate on Holī!

Reflect or journal about the story of Holī. You can ask yourself, What part of me is humble and trusting? How has my faith protected me? What part of me is greedy and prideful, and seeking to win no matter the cost? What part of me is willing to use my spiritual power or wisdom to hurt others and defend my pride? What form has divine wrath taken in my life, and in me? Where am I resisting surrendering my personal will to divine will? Etc.

Perform pūjā, chant to, or meditate on Lord Narasiṁha. If you are dealing with prideful, manipulative, and greedy energies, either in yourself or others, invoking Lord Narasiṁha invites protection and a fierce form of grace. It also awakens within you the ability to access divine anger and defend yourself and others from wrongful harm.

This celebration is also associated with the love between Lord Kṛṣṇa and his beloved Rādhā. Singing songs of praise or dancing for them is also wonderful!

Happy Holī!