The Real Meaning of Diwali

Diwali is a glorious time of year. Families, friends and communities come together in a spirit of celebration, jubilance and joy.

Message of Lord Rama’s Life: Sacrifice and DharmaThere are so many meanings to Diwali, so many stories associated with this auspicious holiday.Diwali is the time when Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. However, the holiday celebrates not only Lord Rama’s long-awaited homecoming, but it celebrates something larger, something deeper, something even more meaningful. It is also the celebration of the message of Lord Rama’s life: sacrifice and dharma.

Going to the forest for 14 years was neither fun, nor comfortable, nor easy for Lord Rama. He was not driven violently there, with no choice. Rather, he made the choice, himself, to undergo this exile in order to uphold a promise his father had made to Queen Kaikaye, that he would grant her any boon she wished. Lord Rama’s 14 years in the forest were a way of fulfilling his father’s debt to the Queen. If he had not gone to the forest on that fateful day, he would have been coronated as king of Ayodhya. If he had refused to go and instead had insisted that his step-mother was unfair and cruel, he would still have been King Rama. Yet, if he had done that, would we worship him as Lord? Would his life, today, be revered as the epitome of dharma, as the perfect embodiment of sacrifice and righteousness? Probably not.

Our Debt to the Poorest of the Poor: 

We worship Lord Rama and revere Lord Rama for the life he lived.We say he is the embodiment of the “perfect person.” We say he is God manifest in a human form.On this special occasion, and on every day, we must not only worship Lord Rama; we must also emulate him.We must take the message of his divine life as our lesson. He lived in hardship and exile for 14 years, amongst tribal peoples, the poorest of the poor, in order to fulfill the terms of his father’s debt.

We also have a debt to pay. Our debt is to the poorest of the poor in India.Our debt is to the same forgotten ones, impoverished ones amongst whom Lord Rama lived.

Most of you received your education in India before coming abroad to earn a living and raise a family. That education probably cost approximately Rs. 20-30 per month, because it was “subsidized.” However, when we really ask ourselves, “Who exactly subsidized this wonderful education I received, which enabled me to get a degree and then come abroad to prosper and thrive?”  The answer is not as clear as we think. Most people assume the government paid for these educations.

However, we must remember that the government is not a profit-making entity. The money that you did NOT pay must have come from somewhere. That money you did not pay came from the poor – you were given a virtually free education because they were given nothing. There are a finite amount of funds in the government. That which you received, they did not receive. The money to fund (or “subsidize”) your education was not given to the poorest of the poor so that it could be given to you.

A Degree and a Debt: 

Therefore, when you left Mother India to come abroad, you came with two things: a degree and a debt. The degree has enabled you to succeed in this Western land and to provide your children with a prosperous environment and all the amenities of Western culture. However, what about the debt? The debt is to those who really subsidized your education. The debt is to those who did not receive anything so that you could receive a degree for Rs. 20-30 a month.

Now that debt must be repaid. Maybe, in order to repay them we have to sacrifice. Maybe we will have to do without a few new sarees or a weekend vacation in order to give back to our brothers and sisters in need.Remember: that is dharma. That sacrifice for the sake of righteousness is what Indian culture is all about. That is the message of Lord Rama’s life. We must not only worship Lord Rama on Diwali; we must also take a pledge to emulate him. We must vow to fulfill our own responsibilities, to pay backour own debts. When we too embody this adherence to dharma, then we will really have something to celebrate.

Diwali: A New Start. A New Beginning

Diwali is a symbol of a fresh start, a new beginning. I always say that God doesn’t open our old files. Whenever we go to Him, whenever we bow our heads humbly and say, “God, I am yours,” He will accept us.We must only offer ourselves completely at His holy feet.

On Diwali, most people begin a new checkbook, as a symbol of a “fresh start,” and they usually write the first check payable to God. This is a beautiful symbol of devotion to Him. It symbolizes that everything we are, everything we have, everything we earn is being laid at His holy feet. This is the beauty of Indian culture. In our yagnas, the mantras end with “idam na mama.” This means, “not for me, but for you, God.”

However, once we’ve written that check to God, placed it in the mandir, said a few mantras and taken prasad, do we actually live any differently? Do we really offer our lives to God, or do we only give Him this one piece of paper each year? The check to God is not an end in and of itself. Rather, it is the means to an end. It is Indian culture’s way of teaching us to always remember God, in everything we do, and to always remember that it is He to whom we owe everything. Without His grace and His blessings, nothing is possible.

This year, let us vow to not only offer God a check (a piece of paper), say a few mantras and then go on with our lives as they were before.But, rather let us vow to live according to the realization that we owe everything to Him and let us truly make an attempt to offer back to Him.

So, this year, write the first check to God. Yes, this is beautiful. Put that check in the mandir. But, then, write the second check to God’s children who are suffering.  “He who serves the poorest of the poor is also serving Me,” our scriptures say.

Devotion into Action:

The blank check to God is a nice symbol. The bhaav (sentiment) is good.But it is not enough. It must be followed by action.Let that first check be a check of bhaav and devotion. But, let that second check be a manifestation of your bhaav – let it put your devotion into action. Let it bring light to the lives of God’s children in India who are suffering in darkness.

Festival of Light 

Probably the most commonly celebrated aspect of Diwali is light – it is the festival of light. Homes, offices, shops and streets are lined with brightly burning deepas. This is not only aesthetically beautiful.It is also symbolically beautiful – we are warding off the darkness of ignorance, of anger, of temptations, with the light of wisdom, of love and of freedom.

It is always so beautiful to see the rows and rows of beautiful deepas, lighting up our streets. It shows to the world that we are a culture of light, of peace, of brightness.However, again, these lamps are meant as symbols, as a means to an end, rather than as simply a beautiful end themselves. What is this real end? What is the real darkness which must be dispelled? It is the darkness within us, the darkness of ignorance, of selfishness, of duality.We are living in a world of illusion which teaches that there is an “us” and a “them”, an “I” and a “you.”

However, Indian culture says otherwise. Indian culture says we are one. Indian culture says that as our brothers and sisters suffer in darkness, so we too are suffering, although we may not be aware of it. It is, therefore, our divine duty to help dispel their darkness, to help alleviate their suffering.

May God bless you all.