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Notes on the Ganesha Upanishad

The Ganesha Upanishad is one of the central texts of the Ganapatya Sampradaya, the groups of devotees for whom Ganesha was the central divinity, who are thought to have become established in India from the 6th Century onwards. There are thought to have been at least six groups of Ganapatyas, including one Tantric grouping, although relatively little is known about them.

The Ganesha Upanishad belongs to the class of Hindu Vedic texts that are considered to be revelatory - sruti - "that which is heard", and in some quarters, are held to be without 'origin'. It is a manifestation of a particular 'Truth'. It should be noted that the Ganesha Upanishad, like other Upanishads, is not merely to be studied as a written text, but to be spoken - the text not only functions as instructive scripture, but also as a performative liturgy - the act of speaking the Upanishad becomes a revelatory experience. It's important to note that in the Tantric traditions, written texts have only a secondary importance in relation to their oral utterance and interpretation.

The the aim of the following commentary is to shed some light on some of the verses in this Upanishad. It is in no way intended to be authoratitive, merely to help those readers who are unfamiliar with some of terminology and concepts revealed in the texts. Ultimately, it is for each devotee to meditate and comment on the Upanishad as revealed through experience. This is merely a starting-point. Please forgive any errors.

1. Om Lam I bow to Ganesha

Om
"Om" (AUM) is the primordial word of creation, itself signifying the absolute - it means "I accept", or "I assent". All devotional acts begin with the chanting of "Om". Om serves to focus the attention of the Divine towards the devotee, and the attention of the devotee towards the divine.
It is further held by some commentators, that Ganesha is the personification of the primal Om.

Lam
"Lam" is the seed-mantra of the Muladhara Chakra, of which Ganesha is the gatekeeper or Deva.

2. You are clearly the Tattva. You alone are the Creator. You alone are the Maintainer. You alone are the Destroyer. Of all this you are certainly Brahma.
You plainly are the essence.

Ganesha is praised as the Tattva. This word can be translated as "principle" - so Ganesha could here, be identified as the 'Eternal Principle' underlying reality.
Further, Ganesha is identified as the personification of Trimurti - the Creator (Brahma), the Maintainer (Visnu), and the destroyer (Siva). As Brahma, he continually creates; as Visnu he holds those creations together in equilibrium; as Siva he breaks down those combinations of matter.
Furthermore, Ganesha is identified as the Absolute (Brahma), and the eternal indwelling "essence" - the Atman (Self).

3. Always I speak Amrita. The Truth I speak.

The speaker asserts that he speaks "Truth" which to him is experiential & revelatory - spoken from his heart, rather than just parroting or reciting lines. Further, "Amrita" means "imperishable" - i.e. that this is an imperishable truth.

4. Protect me. Protect the speakers. Protect the hearers. Protect the givers. Protect the holders. Protect the disciple that repeats. Protect that in the East. Protect that in the South. Protect that in the West. Protect that in the North. Protect that above. Protect that below. Everywhere protect. Protect me everywhere!
5. You are Speech. You are Consciousness. You are Bliss. You are Brahma. You are Being-Consciousness-Bliss. You are the Non-Dual. You are plainly Brahma. You are Knowledge. You are Intelligence.

Being (Sat) - Consciousness (Chit) - Bliss (Ananda) - or, Reality-Consciousness-Experience - the three aspects of existence. This denotes the Supreme Power.
Ganesha is further identified as the "Non-Dual" - Brahma dwells within him. Here is an indication that Ganesha can lead his devotee towards that experience of bliss which is realisation of one's inner divinity. Dissolving the difference between devotee and deity is the object of puja.

6. You create this world. You maintain this world. All this world is seen in you. You are Earth, water, Fire, Air, Aethyr. You are beyond the four measures of speech. You are beyond the Three Gunas. You are beyond the three bodies. You are beyond the three times.

Here, Ganesha is also identified as both finite and infinite: as the 5 elements; as the embodiment of the 4 stages of speech (para, pasyanti, madhyama, vaikhari); as the three Gunas (Rajas, Sattva and Tamas); as the three bodies (physical, subtle, causal); as the three times (past, present, future). Moreover, Ganesha is beyond these finite forms.

You are always situated in the Muladhara.

Ganesha is identified as the Deva of the Muladhara Chakra - the "root-support" of all beings. Equally, the elephant is the 'vehicle' associated with Muladhara.

You are the being of the three Shaktis.

Ganesha is here related to the three Shaktis (powers) of Will (Ichha), Knowledge (Jnana) and Action (Kriya), possibly in the sense of being the causal agency behind the inter-relation of these three powers, or the embodiment thereof. It should be noted that none of the threefold agencies in Tantrik philosophy can be divided from each other. Will does not exist without some degree of Knowledge and Action; nor is Tamas present without some degree of Sattva and Rajas.

You are always meditated upon by Yogins.
You are Brahma, you are Vishnu, you are Rudra, You are Agni, You are Vayu, You are the Moon, You are the Sun, You are Brahma, Bhur-Bhuvah-Svar.

Again, Ganesha is identified as Trimurti. Rudra is a primordial aspect of Siva. As Agni he is fire; as Vayu, the wind. He is the Moon (Candra); the Sun (Surya); Space (Brahma) - whilst this last name is formed from the ritual utterances "To Earth" (Bhur), "To Space" (Bhuvas), "To Sky" (Svar).

7. 'Ga' the first syllable, after that the first letter, beyond that 'm', then the half-moon all together. Joined with "Om" this is the mantra-form.
8. Letter Ga the first form, letter a the middle form, m the last form. Bindu the higher form, Nada the joining together, Samhita the junction. This is the Vidya of Lord Ganesha.

These verses present the sacred mantra of Ganesha. The Seed (Bija) sound for Ganesha is "gam". The Varada-Tantra, Chpt. 6 says:

"Ga, I speak unto Thee, means Ganesa. Bindu means Dispeller of sorrow. Thus, O Mahesvari, the meaning of Gam-bija is spoken to Thee out of love for Thee."

These verses are telling the devotee how to proceed with the worship of Ganesha, giving the correct use of the Bija-Mantra:

Gam is uttered, prefixed with "Om". The Bindu is the essence (i.e. higher form) of all sounds. The Nada (Cosmic Sound) is the utterance [of the mantra] - John Grimes adds that "the sounding of it is its enjoyment" (Grimes, p27) - at the moment I would posit that "joining together" refers to the unification of deity and devotee through the latters recitation of the seed-mantra, which is the essence thought-form of the god. As for Samhita - it is usually translated as "scripture", so I take the phrase "Samhita the junction" as a reference to union with the god through the study/meditation of the holy scripture.
All this is the wisdom (Vidya) of Lord Ganesha. Note: I tend to equate Vidya with Gnosis in the sense of being knowledge or wisdom gained via revelation.

(According to Sir John Woodroffe, the terms Bindu and Nada represent two particular stages in the process of the manifestation of Shakti. Bindu is generally understood as meaning a 'point'. "Nada" is etymologically derived from 'sound'. Woodroffe, in The Garland of Letters, says that Sakti moves from Nada to Bindu. Nada is the maithuna (congress) or yoga of Siva-Sakti, which in turn produces the bindu, which again differentiates into threefold aspects, although in denser form.)

9. Ganaka is the seer, Nricad-Gayatri the metre, Sri Mahaganapati the God. "Om Ganapataye Namah."

The first perception of a mantra is held to arise from a human-divine contact of some kind; hence the first person to utter the mantra is known as its Seer (Sage). In the case of "Gam", the Upanishad says that "Ganaka is the seer".

A "Gayatri" is a particular form of mantra, which may consist of a meter, or rhythm which has three stanzas consisting of eight syllables each. A Gayatri mantra is also Devi - the power which one invokes. Whilst mantra alone relies on the Sakti (power inherent in sound) for its effectiveness, a Gayatri mantra is both mantra and prayer. The syllables of the Gayatri mantra are so arranged as to enable the devotee's breathing to fall into a natural pattern, facilitating the arousal of Kundalini-Sakti.

Ganapati is the divinity of the mantra - "Om, salutations to the Lord of the multitudes."

10. Let us think of the one-toothed, let us meditate on the crooked trunk, may that tusk direct us.

These stanzas should be meditated upon by the devotee, for they contain, in condensed form, the core philosophy of the worship of Ganesha.

11. One tusk, four arms, carrying noose and goad, with His hands dispelling fear and granting boons, with a mouse as his banner.
12. Red, with a big belly, with ears like winnowing baskets, wearing red, with limbs smeared in red scent, truly worshipped with red flowers.
13. To the devoted a merciful Deva, the Maker of the World, the Prime Cause, who at the beginning of creation was greater than gods and men.
14. He who always meditates thus is a Yogin above Yogins.

These verses give the general form of Lord Ganesha for worship and meditation.

15. Hail to the Lord of Vows, hail to Ganapati, hail to the First Lord, hail unto you, to the Big-Bellied, One-tusked, Obstacle-destroyer, the Son of Shiva, to the Boon-Giver, Hail, hail.

This verse is a restatement of some of the titles of Ganesha:

Ekadanta - One-tusked one
Lambodara - Big-bellied
Varadaya - Bestower of Boons
Sarvatanaya - Son of Siva
Vighnavina - Destroyer of Obstacles
16. He who studies this Atharva Shira moves towards Brahma. He is always blissful. He is not bound by any obstacles. He is liberated from the five greater and the five lesser sins. Evening meditation destroys the unmeritorious actions of the night. At both evening and morning he is liberated from the bad and he attains Dharma-Artha-Kama and Moksha.

According to John Grimes, the phrase "Atharva Shira" suggests "firmness or singlepointedness of the intellect as directed towards one's realization of the Divine."
(Grimes, p22). Thus, we are told that study of this text leads one to realization of the Divine.
Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha are the four legitimate life-goals: Dharma can be translated as 'righteousness' or 'duty'; Artha as prosperity; Kama, as sensual pleasure, and Moksha, as liberation.

17. This Atharva Shira should not be given to those not pupils. If from delusion a person so gives, he is a bad person.

18. He who wants something may accomplish it by 1000 recitations of this. He who sprinkles Ganapati with this becomes eloquent. He who recites this on the 4th day becomes a knower of Vidya. This an Atharva saying "He who moves towards Brahma is never afraid." He who worships with fried grains becomes famous and becomes intelligent. He who worships with sweet-meat (modaka) gains the desired fruit. he who worships with samit and ghee by him all is attained, all is gained by him. He who makes eight Brahmanas understand this becomes like the sun's rays. In a solar eclipse, in a great river, or in front of an image having recited (this) he gets accomplished in the mantra. He becomes liberated from great obstacles. He is freed from great misfortunes.

Note that "1000 recitations" does not necessarily indicate that the text be recited 1000 times as an exact count.

Modaka is the sweet flour or rice balls traditionally favoured by Ganesha and offered to him by devotees. In some myths it is said to have similar qualities to the divine Soma.

These verses declaim the spiritual benefits from regular study and repetition of the text.

Sources

Ganapati: Song of the Self - John A. Grimes (State University of New York Press)

Loving Ganesha - Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

Ganesha … the Auspicious - the Beginning - S. Jagannathan & N. Krishna

Tantra Magick - AMOOKOS, Mandrake of Oxford

The Garland of Letters - Sir John Woodroffe

The Myths and Gods of India - Alain Daniélou

Ganesa: Lord of Beginnings, Lord of Obstacles - Paul B. Courtright

The Amoral Way of Wizardry - Sri Gurudeva Dadaji Mahendranath 999