Yoga philosophy is often fleshed out with characters from Hindu mythology. Some people find this off-putting as it rings a distant note of religiosity. This often happens because these colorful characters and stories are viewed as concrete deities, rather than as representations of different aspects of ourselves. Of course, there are sectors of society that regard these archetypes as material divinities, but it is also possible to separate Hindu mythology from a particular religious view point and to use it to illuminate deep seated aspects of ourselves.
One of the most well-known figures in Hindu mythology is Ganesha, the elephant god. His anthropomorphic image is widespread in India, its prominence dating back to the 6th century AD. He is portrayed in a wide variety of situations, from valiantly fighting demons to domestic portraits invoking a sense of familial harmony. While Ganesha is also known as a patron of the arts and sciences, he is most widely revered as the remover of obstacles and the symbol of wisdom. However, Ganesha is also thought to place obstacles in the path of those that need to learn a particular lesson. In this sense, obstacles are regarded as positive forces fostering new perspectives. This encapsulates the deeper sense of wisdom which Ganesha represents.
A traditional way of invoking the Ganesha archetype is through mantra. In many yoga schools, mantras are chanted as a way of getting in touch with those aspects of ourselves we need most in our journey of spiritual realization. The Ganesha mantra translates as the following:
O Mighty Ganesha of Large body, curved trunk, with the brilliance of a million suns, please make all my work free of obstacles, always.
Our internal Ganesha oversees obstacles on material and spiritual planes. Obstacles in our lives occur on many levels, and often simultaneously, from the grossest manifestations of the body to the subtlest impressions of the mind. Yoga philosophy does not differentiate between these levels of being as body is regarded merely as gross mind and mind as subtle body.
This becomes an interesting perspective when we consider the compound ways in which obstacles often seem to manifest in our lives. When we are dealing with extreme mental issues, such as obstacles in our professional lives or relationship dynamics, we often experience concurrent physical ailments. Similarly, serious health problems deeply impact our state of mind. Obstacles resonate on all our levels of being in chorus. To truly start removing these obstacles requires a deeper and more inclusive concept of wisdom – which Ganesha represents.
This sort of wisdom occurs when we manage, through practice, to align our rational faculties with our intuitive ones. Yoga and meditation techniques all aid the process of achieving a state of balance in which this true sense of wisdom becomes more accessible. In this sense, we are all Ganesha’s capable of removing the obstacles in our lives. It is this wisdom which gives birth to the creative insights that resolve our problems.
So next time you are faced with what feels like an insurmountable obstacle, smile as you call to mind the image of the wise and powerful elephant god. Know that he resides within you and that through practice, whichever form works for you, you can achieve the sort of balanced insight that enables you to remove any obstacle in your path. Furthermore, by invoking Ganesha’s wisdom, be reminded that all obstacles are teachers on your journey toward yourself and are in fact your biggest opportunities for growth.