The new moon that marks Dipāvali is a festive observance celebrated by the lighting of lamps. This festival of lights is a time-honoured tradition dating back to antiquity. The epic events of the Rāmāyana narrate how Śrī-Rāma – the refulgent being epitomizing the most exalted values – returns to the abode of Ayodhyā, the name indicating a place where all inner and outer enemies are said to have been conquered. Residents of Ayodhyā lit the lamps to honour his return amid them and glorify the victory, or the light that replaces darkness.
During a new moon, the moon is conjunct with the sun; there is no reflected light from the moon. In metaphorical terms, the mind has merged into the source of light. Yet it is dark on any new moon evening, signifying that the light of the Self is not yet revealed or that one is immortal consciousness which is not yet realized. The tradition therefore calls for the lighting of lamps to help reveal the consciousness and overcome the dark demons of life.
Traditionally, the lighting of lamps peaks on the new moon evening and the festival typically lasts five days centred around this night. The translation of this simple Sanskrit word implies arrays of lights – arrays consisting of strings of lights linked as in a garland or a necklace.
Dipāvali also reminds us to kindle discrete lights and arrange them in a pattern in remembrance of the ultimate divine wealth – the lamp within. Meditators take this opportunity to be peacemakers silently illuminating the darkness of ignorance. On a more practical level, this evening is a time for welcoming the divine mother of plenitude, Śrīlaxmī.
A moth has no mind to return to darkness after seeing light. Similarly, one who sees the light of the Self has no interest in the dark corridors of ignorance. This darkness cannot be probed, for when one holds the flashlight of knowledge, the darkness of ignorance vanishes. This ignorance is not a negated state of knowledge but is here for one to strive toward the light. Knowledge cannot be negated, for it is a state of being and is the light that is the innate radiance of the consciousness.
Silent vigils are frequently held protesting against unfair events. Protesters walk with lamps in their hands and exhibit the potential of light and fairness amid the dark doom of irreconcilable conflicts. It is the seeing and the beholding that is the light; darkness cannot reveal. Darkness makes us appreciate the value of light.
Even the age-old darkness of an unexplored room can be changed in a moment of illumination. There is every possibility in each moment of one’s life to taste the bliss of enlightenment. A firefly lights up for a few moments in its life before it dies. The literature from the great epic events of Mahābhārata asserts that it is better to light up brightly for a moment than to smoulder all your life and not shine. This prospect of enlightenment is celebrated at the auspicious time of Dipāvali.
Each creature survives its challenges of life by holding on to one good quality. Even the most ferocious animals exhibit at least one good quality in them. Dipāvali calls for lighting and honouring the human quality that outshines all the negative ones. When the light is bright, no darkness can be present. Just like darkness cannot be analyzed because light removes it, the light of our consciousness, when manifested, can eradicate all the dark tendencies. Such is the fruit of enlightenment.
The seer is the light in the heart. The seer is discrete. The seer is the knower. A well-known Sanskrit saying, śreyānsi bahu vignāni – implies that binding together for noble service is fraught with challenges. This is because ignorance is commonplace. Ignorance is akin to darkness. Because ignorance is widespread, collective ignorance is easily garnered. Even though there is collective ignorance, there is no such thing as collective consciousness. Rumour spreads much too easily, while truth remains hidden. Connecting the lights should be invoked instead of exploring or shaping darkness.
Conscious entities are discrete and countless in number, just like on this evening when there will be innumerable lamps lighting up. Countless seers manifest innumerable lights. Similarly countless stars light up the otherwise dark night sky. It is matter which is one, making all energy linked and transmissible. The primordial material cause is the unmanifest matter. It is the potential state from which all discrete entities evolve and unto which they merge and emerge at a later appropriate time.
Matter is dark unless lit by the consciousness that is the seer. Matter is the knowable when lit by alignment with consciousness. Thus consciousness is the efficient cause in creation. Unmanifest matter remains indiscrete, while consciousness is discrete and yet identical in each separate conscious entity. Properties by which separate entities are discerned cannot be ascribed to matter. When matter reflects the light of consciousness through their alignment, creation begins and the possibility of realizing the light within looms again. The lamp of knowing is rekindled on this Dipāvali night.
Everyone loves sunlight whereas gloomy, dark weather is depressive. And yet the night descends after the twilight and then awaits the morning light, when the sunshine rekindles hope and a new beginning. Most of the physical universe is dark or mysterious matter, and this is one reason why Brahman is also referred to as Śrī-Kr̥ṣna – the dark or the hidden One. Metaphorically speaking, where black holes swallow stars and the darkness always envelopes the light, the twinkling array of hope resides in the act of manifesting the light of the Self.
Lighting the lamps in an array is like binding the spirit. The lamps of knowing when connected bring about the lighted space. The string of lights illuminates a lighted path. Rigveda inspires us to save and protect the lighted paths attained through truthful deeds. We strive to light the pathway of real wealth and welcome Śrīlaxmī again on this dark new moon night.
The paths are lit by the light of seeking, serving and giving. Rigveda teaches us that genuine giving wins the world over just like light fills darkness. Affirmations to alight along a spiritual path or to align with a noble cause bind the spirit and nurture the bonds which build a divine shelter – the nurturing shelter of motherly Śrīlaxmī.
Rigveda beautifully teaches us that light makes the nectar in honey flow. The light in the heart when realized makes life fulfilled. Fulfilment is experienced through love. Devotional rapture brings about the ultimate experience of divine love. Love floods forth as the flow in the heart when the light within is realized. The one light within is shining forth – the light which is the consciousness or the Self in itself. Indeed the seer is the light in the heart.
Let the many seers light up again together on this Dipāvali. Let the arrays of lights bind our spirits. Let the spirited ones become great enlightened beings. May you light up the lamp of knowing within you and honour the immense possibilities in this human birth. May you emulate the path as laid down by the enlightened ones. Take a vow of discipline to manage your time. Make a resolution to renew your personal spiritual practice. Strengthen and nurture the soul’s divine current through exalted values and ethics. And radiate the spirit of a rekindled lamp.
References for Rigveda verses are 10-53/6, 8-24/21, 9-86/10.