New Moon vol 26: Burn Pure, Burn Bright

Living Sanskrit Newsletters

Happy New Moon! Before we get into the practices for today, we want you to know that the Living Sanskrit website is in the middle of big structural repairs after having been hacked. We’ve decided to use this time as an opportunity to repair, redesign, and add new features and learning material. Thank you for your support and patience as we complete this much-needed phase of our development.

Another change we’ve made is to coordinate calendar systems amongst our teaching team. As we’ve mentioned, there’s tremendous diversity of teachings and practices within the dharma traditions, and while no one method is “right”, it helps to stay consistent within whatever lineage we choose to follow. So Living Sanskrit is now following the amāvasyā-anta system (used by Western and Southern India, where most of our team has ancestral or cultural ties). In this calendar system, New Moon is the last day of the month. The beautiful thing about this system is that the month now ends with the dissolution of the moon into pure space.

Today’s New Moon is the last day of the month of Āṣāḍha, and it’s a very simple and beautiful holiday called Dīpa Amāvasyā (Deepa Amavasya in Hindi). The holy month of Śrāvaṇa – sacred to all deities – begins the day after tomorrow, so today’s the day to realign our focus towards purity and light. This is a day where we clean and light our flame lamps (dīpa in Sanskrit). It’s not to be confused with Diwali, the festival of lights, where we also light lamps and put them all over our house. While both festivals emphasize the triumph of light and consciousness over the forces of darkness and ignorance, Dīpa Amāvasyā specifically focuses on the lamp itself.

Now, you might be wondering why the humble lamp gets its own holiday. Well, there are many, many, many reasons for this, some of which we will share with you here. For one, the flame is considered to be the karma-sākṣi, the witness of all action. This is why traditionally at the start of sacred practice, ritual, or even certain types of work, the first thing we do is light a lamp. The flame represents the supreme presence, divine consciousness, that watches over us at all times and fills us with its light.

Secondly, fire element is associated with light, and also the power of sight. It is very pure, full of radiance and warmth. The scriptures point out over and again that without fire, there would be no creation and no knowledge. How can you learn something if you can’t see? How could you make or DO anything if you couldn’t see? It is because we can see – both because of fire and because sight is a form of fire – that we can create and know the world. We offer our deep gratitude for that!

In the age of electricity, flame lamps still have their own unique pull. Around the world, we like to light candles or oil lamps. This is because fire has a profound connection to life. When you light a flame, you experience its LIFE – its dynamic, radiant, effervescent power, as well as its unique life cycle. Fire is also dependent on and related to the earth, to water, to air, and to the sky. When we experience fire, we also get to experience these deep primordial connections that aren’t visible with an ordinary electric lightbulb.

The dīpa also embodies true sacrifice and surrender. It teaches us how to burn ourselves in such a way that we become a source of light – to keep on shining without hesitation, conditions, or selfishness. No matter what type of oil it receives, or whether the lamp is earth or metal, the flame still burns with purity and intensity. That is something we too can aspire too.

It doesn’t matter what we started with – whether we were given houses made of clay or of gold – like the flame, we can offer ourselves completely. We can choose to burn through whatever conditions life handed to us, and be a source of truth, warmth, power, and beauty for everything we meet. Remember – a small flame can illumine the world!

Practice: Honor the Lamp

The traditional practice for this New Moon is:

Clean all the oil lamps in your house. Whether they are made from clay or metal, be sure to wash and oil the lamps you use. As you clean them, offer your gratitude for them and the light, wisdom, and power that they provide. It is also traditional to anoint the base of the lamp with a dot of turmeric and kumkum when you’re finished.

Make fresh wicks using cotton and ghee (clarified butter). You can take a small bit of a cotton ball, and roll it so one end – or even all of it – twists into the end of a wick. You can dip the end in milk or ghee if it helps you twist and bind the fibers.

You can fill your lamps with any kind of natural oil (corn, safflower, grapeseed, sesame, etc), although ghee is considered the purest of all. We generally don’t use wax because we can’t eat wax, and it’s better to offer nourishing and easily digestible oils to the fire just as we would for ourselves.

Place the lit lamps around your home and as you sit for spiritual practice. Have the inner experience that you yourself are a lamp that has been freshly cleaned, and ready to burn and surrender itself into an offering of light and wisdom for all creation. Experience your power and purity. Refresh your commitment to cultivating light in your life, and also to being light in the world.