Author Archives: Swami Nirmalananda

Kurma Avatar & Neelakantha

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Indra, the King of Heaven was riding on His white elephant.  As He returned to Heaven, He was greeted by Durvasa, a great sage, who offered him a very special garland of flowers vibrating with the energy and presence of the Divine Goddess Parashakti herself.

Indra, being a king, was arrogant, so while He accepted the garland, He gave it to the elephant.  The elephant was irritated by the smell of the garland, threw it to the ground and trampled it.  Durvasa, known to be a hot-headed sage, was predictably enraged, as the garland held all beauty and auspiciousness in it.  It was to be treated as sacred prasad, a Divine Gift.  Sage Durvasa cursed Indra, “Your pride has made you egoistic about your position and wealth.  Goddess Lakshmi will now forsake you.”  Because of the sage’s curse, without Goddess Lakshmi’s blessings, Indra and all the gods lost their strength, energy and wealth.

With all His powers diminished, Indra with the other Devas ran to Lord Vishnu seeking His advice.  Lord Vishnu said the only way to get back what was lost was to churn the ocean, then made of milk, to bring forth “amrit” (the nectar of immortality).  Thus Indra and the Devas could drink the amrit, which would make them immortal again and help them regain their lost powers.  Because of their depleted powers, Vishnu explained they would need help from their half-brothers the Asuras (demons), even though they had always been in conflict with them, in order to achieve this.

Indra led the Devas in approaching the Asuras for help.  After deliberations, they all agreed to churn the ocean together and share the proceeds.  The churning of the ocean of milk was not going to be an easy task, though they were working together.  They needed a huge churning rod and a very strong rope.

They sought the help of Mount Mandara to be their churning rod and the great snake Vasuki, the snake god, to be their rope, which they wrapped 3½ times around the mountain.  The churning of the ocean began with the Devas holding Vasuki’s tail (as advised by Lord Vishnu) and the Asuras holding the head.  The Devas and Asuras pulled back and forth alternately, rotating the mountain and churning the ocean.

As they were churning, Mount Mandara started sinking in the ocean of milk.  To prevent this, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a tortoise and held Mount Mandara up from underneath.  This is known to be “Kurma Avatar” (kurma=tortoise, avatar=incarnation), one of Lord Vishnu’s ten Avatars.

The first thing to manifest from the churning ocean was a deadly poison, known as “hala hala,” which threatened the very existence of all the worlds.  As instructed by Lord Vishnu, the Devas and Asuras prayed to Lord Shiva, who is healer of sickness and remover of all poisons.  Lord Shiva came to their aid, while the Devas and Asuras watched in amazement, by swallowing the hala hala poison in one gulp.

Goddess Parvati, standing by His side, was terrified at the thought that it might poison Shiva, so She squeezed His neck to prevent the poison from going into His stomach.  The poison remained stuck forever in His throat, staining it a dark blue.  This gave Lord Shiva the name “Neelakantha,” which means Blue Throated (neela=blue, kantha=throat).

Not knowing what would happen to Shiva, they all stood vigil with Him through the night.  This was the first Shivaratri or Night of Shiva, which is still celebrated on the dark of the moon in February.

Once the danger had passed, the Devas and Asuras began churning the ocean again.  As they continued to churn, several objects came out:

Kamadhenu — the wish-fulfilling cow

Ucchaisrava — the white horse

Airavata — the white elephant

Kaustubhamani — a rare diamond

Kalpavriksha — the wish-fulfilling tree

Sura or Varuni — the goddess of wine

And Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth

The Devas and Asuras divided the objects among themselves.  Lakshmi was gifted to Vishnu who had been supporting them all along as the tortoise.

Finally, Dhanvantari (the Divine Physician) appeared with the vessel of amrit in His skillful hands.

The Asuras overpowered the Devas in order to drink it all themselves.  Looking at the situation, Lord Vishnu turned into the loveliest of the nymphs of the Heaven, called Mohini.  Mohini distracted the Asuras, then stole the amrit and gave it to the Devas.

As Mohini was distributing the amrit to the Devas, one of the Asuras, called Svarbhanu, sneaked in to sit among the Devas and get some amrit.  The moment Chandra (Moon) and Surya (Sun), who were sitting beside him, saw that he was an Asura, they informed Mohini.  Lord Vishnu took on His real form and threw out the Sudarshan Chakra (a spinning disc-like energetic weapon).  The Asura’s neck was separated from his body, but he did not die as he had drunk one drop of the amrit.  His head was called “Rahu” and his torso “Ketu.”  Now, Rahu and Ketu periodically swallow the moon and sun to have their revenge, causing the eclipses to happen.  Rahu and Ketu are part of the nine planets of Vedic astrology.

After Indra and the Devas drank the amrit, they regained their strength.  The three worlds became filled with radiance and power.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

Persona, Personality & Self

By Swami Nirmalananda

Persona is the face you present to the world.  Personality is the aggregate of characteristics that you carry with you through the different personas.  The deeper unchanging Reality within is called “Self” in yoga.  The challenge is to sort it all out on the inside.  You get too easily mixed up in the different levels of identity and lost in the superficial levels of life, running around in circles and never feeling really fully complete.  Let’s look at the three levels of identity.

Yoga recognizes the importance of the fulfilling the different roles and responsibilities of your life, called dharma in Sanskrit.  Persona is the external sense of self that you create by these roles.  It is your whole sense of self when you are at work, how you are when you are with your friends and who you are at home and with your extended family.  You actually have multiple personas, some of them amazingly dissimilar.   You might be very quiet at work, yet gregarious at home or vice versa.  You could be considerate and loving to those you live with and still be sorting out some old anger with your extended family.  You even switch from one persona to another very easily, sometimes several times a day.

You also have personal characteristics that you carry through your many personas.  You may have a good sense of humor or you may be quietly insightful.  You might be a take-charge person, or you could be a person who prefers to wait and see about things.  Maybe you carry a sense of helpfulness everywhere you go, or you are an astute commentator on life and on the people around you.  These characteristics comprise your personality.

Your personality provides you with a distinct sense of self, different from other people.  It provides a more consistent sense of self than persona does, being made up of enduring qualities that yoga calls vasanas, your mental and emotional proclivities.  You can change them if you want to, but it takes genuine work.  You can decide to become more compassionate or to improve your ability to handle the practical things in life.  It will truly be worth it.  These unique and individual characteristics (or idiosyncratic quirks) comprise the way in which consciousness contracts to become an individual — you!

Beyond persona and personality, there is a deeper dimension which is called “Self,” atman or svaroopa in Sanskrit.  This innermost essence provides you with the internal sense of continuity while the surface revolves through many selves and an ever-changing external reality.  Inside, you are still the person you were when you were a child.  That inner essence has always been you and will always be.  Yoga is the process of finding your own Self.  Your Self is Consciousness-Itself being you.

So far, we have looked at three levels of self: persona, personality and Self.  You will always have all three.  The trick is how you handle them on the inside.  Consider this:  which one of the many selves are you coming from right now?  Whatever answer you give is a good answer — there is no wrong answer.  Problems arise only when you get stuck in the superficial levels of self, persona or personality.  Yoga helps you dive deeper to find svaroopa, the Self, which is your inner essence, from which happiness, joy and love arise.

You create your persona and personality through your memories.  Patanjali explains this in the Yoga Sutras:

Chittaantara-drshye buddhi-buddher ati-prasangah smrti-samkarash cha.   — Sutra # 4.21

…if mind were see-able by another mind, there would be an infinite regression

from one mind to another, as well as a confusion of memories.

This speaks to why yoga warns against developing and using psychic powers.  If you try to know what is in another’s mind, the memories of both get tangled together within you, making you go crazy because you lose your sense of individuality.  This shows how important your memories are, because you construct your sense of identity by your memories.

This is true of the memories that you keep reviewing like reruns inside your head, as well as the ones buried too deep for you to access consciously.  The more deeply they are buried, the more powerfully they shape your sense of self.  Yoga begins to unearth the hidden levels and clear a path to svaroopa, the Self.  It can even help you change your past because, fortunately, memories are changeable.  What you remember is not what really happened.  You have a highly selective memory, which edits out certain things and remembers others.  Worse, what you remember is actually a distorted report of what really happened.  This should not be a surprise to you —just check out your childhood memories with someone else who was actually present at the time!

Recent scientific studies have proven that your memory is unreliable.  A recent study reported work with a group of people over several years.  The scientists had each person do a series of simple puzzles, the “round-peg-in-the-round-hole” type of thing.  Every year they returned to do the same puzzles again.  Each time, the researchers told the people what their elapsed time was.  They kept getting better, because they were getting practice (and you always get better when you practice).  Every year, the scientists asked them what their time had been in the prior years.  What was really being measured was what their memory. Their memory of their elapsed times changed as their ability to do the puzzles improved.  As they got better at the puzzles, they shortened their past times — to show that they were better in the past.  In other words, when you feel better about yourself, your memories improve.  You really can change your past.

Yoga helps you with this.  You already know that when you do yoga, the way you respond to everyday situations improves.  More importantly, you can actually change your past and, when your memories change, your whole sense of self changes.  This is a profound healing of both persona and personality.  These two together are called ahamkara in Sanskrit, your externally-based sense of self, also often translated as “ego.”  You construct ahamkara through your memories, actions and thoughts.  When your thoughts and actions change, your ahamkara changes.  This is called healing.  It is called transformation.

While yoga reliably gives you these changes, they are not the goal of yoga.  The real goal of yoga is to find the Self and to let it shine through all the superficial layers.  This is because you will always have all three levels of identity.  You do not become free from ego (ahamkara) by destroying it, because it is the means by which consciousness becomes you as an individual.  If it goes, you go.

What happens instead is that you clear out all the gunk that blocks or distorts the way consciousness shines through you.  You make your ego as transparent as a sliding glass patio door, one that is so clean you cannot tell if it is open or closed.  Then svaroopa can shine through without distortion.

This gives you an internal feeling of vertical integrity, all your selves lined up inside.  Your personality and persona(s) become means by which Self (Consciousness-Itself) expresses itself into the world.  You live from the deepest level of your own being and even your emotions and memories are completely transformed.

Getting there is a process is of clearing out the old stuff; letting go.  Whether you let go gracefully or you kick and scream all the way, you will still have to let go.  The best part of this is that you are already on the way.  Doing yoga is a way to embark upon the inner journey quite consciously, but even if you aren’t doing yoga, you are on the path.  Life itself moves you — haven’t you noticed?

Be conscious about what you are doing, because you can use yoga to support any level of self that you hold dear.  Yoga can protect your persona, by doing yoga to recover from the strains of “holding it together” in a time of difficulties.  You can use yoga to protect your personality, doing yoga to just “get through the hard times.”  Or you can use yoga to dive deeper and deeper inside and base your whole inner being, and your whole life on the Self.  It’s your choice.  I always recommend, “Do more yoga!”

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

Click for online version (April 2003)

Your Heart is the Crossroads…

By Swami Nirmalananda

Your heart is the crossroads between the finite and the infinite.  This is why you have such a wonderful experience when you allow yourself to feel love.  The one for whom you feel love is within the finite or material world.  He, she or it triggers your experience of the infinite within your own being.

It doesn’t much matter who or what triggers this inner experience, except that you will always want more and more of it.  It becomes a dependency, even an addiction.  You need that external object in order to feel fulfilled.  It could be a person, one who is in your life now or someone that is not available to you anymore. It could be a physical location, a place you go on vacation or your home.  It can even be a physical thing, a favorite chair or a specific piece of music.  Whether it is a person, a place or a thing, it is an external object, the object of your love.

When you allow that object to affect you, you feel an amazing experience within.  Yoga acknowledges the central importance of this feeling in your life and calls it love, but also calls it bliss.  When your inner experience fades (as it always does), then you want the outer object to trigger your inner feeling again.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Then you spend lots of time and energy trying to manipulate the external world, including other people, into triggering this inner experience for you again.  This is because you must feel this inner feeling, for the feeling is life itself.  Life without this inner feeling is so barren that you may begin to question if life is even worth living.

This inner experience is the goal of yoga.  It is clearly explained in the texts that lay the foundation for the practices of Svaroopa® yoga.  These tantric texts guide you through the process of interweaving the two seemingly different realities: the finite outer world and the infinite reality within.  These are actually not two separate realities, though they seem to be separate.  They are just two different expressions of the One Reality.

Just as water can be liquid, ice or steam, the One Reality (Shiva) manifests in many forms.  One of the forms is you, and includes your own body, mind and heart, as well as other subtle levels of your being that you are not used to perceiving.  The purpose of yoga is to discover all the levels of your own being, and to live in the knowing of your Self as Shiva, the One Reality.  Then you recognize Shiva everywhere you look, inside or outside.  You live with an open heart, loving everything and everyone, because each is another form of your Self.  It doesn’t matter anymore if something is right or wrong, good or bad, pretty or ugly.  You love it all.

There is a process you need to work your way through before you can live in this experience.  All of the work that needs to be done is inner work.  You don’t need to open your heart to something on the outside.  You need to open your heart on the inside.  Pause here for just a moment, because this is a radically different principle.

This is not about learning to love yourself.  The cliché about loving yourself is the hardest thing in the world to actually do.  Even worse than merely being difficult, it traps you in a constant inner split.  This is because, in order for there to be love, there must be two.  For you to love yourself, there has to be you (the you is being loved), and the one that loves you (which is another you).  However, you cannot actually be two!  There really is only one “you.”  Yet, how can there be love when there is only one?  There must be two for there to be love.

Yoga’s definition of love is “the Recognition of the One in the Two.”  When you look deeply into someone’s eyes and see the light of their being, you feel this experience — inside.  This inner feeling arises because the One in you has met the One in the other.  It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does — WOW!

Now you probably want to jump up right now and go find someone you can connect deeply with in this way.  It is a wonderful experience, but it is not yoga.  Worse, it is destined to failure.    There are two reasons why:  (1) the person or thing that triggered the inner filling will not be a reliable trigger every time, and (2) even when the inner feeling does arise, it fades away — always.  Let’s look at both of these more closely.

The object that triggers your inner experience is not a reliable trigger every time.  If it is a person, sometimes they are being their most wonderful wonderfulness and sometimes they are in a rotten mood.  If it is a place, sometimes it is beautiful, and sometimes the weather is bad or the plumbing is broken.  If it is a physical thing, like ice cream, sometimes you can even eat a whole container of your favorite flavor and not really enjoy it.

What really happens is that it seems like your inner experience comes from the outer object, but it actually doesn’t.  It is all ultimately only about your inner state.  When you feel full on the inside, you can handle the bad weather and even the plumbing repair, while you laugh lovingly at the other person’s rotten mood.  You don’t need a dish of ice cream to make yourself feel better because you already feel better.  The “feeling better already” is yoga.

The second problem is that the inner experience fades away whenever something external causes it.  This happens because you have a limited capacity to stay in it.  You are used to looking on the outside, and cannot sustain the inner experience when it does arise.  You can watch it happen.  Someone or something triggers the upwelling of love inside and you allow it to fill you.  You feel your body change.  Your brain and whole nervous system is warmed with a wonderful feeling and your body floods your cells with bliss chemicals.  You feel relaxed and have expanded awareness.  Anxiety is banished, seemingly forever.  Even the texture of the skin on your face softens.  Your eyebrows widen and you smile.

Then your mind starts up, “I don’t know how long this will last.  I remember the last time I felt this way, and everything turned out to be…”  You shut the feeling down because you have been practicing looking outside for fulfillment all your life long.  If you had practiced looking within, you would immerse yourself in these inner sensations, even to the extent ignoring the one who triggered them!  Because the feeling itself is the most important thing.  This feeling is the Infinite Reality Within.  This is yoga.

Your heart is the crossroads between the finite and the infinite.  The finite external object can trigger the experience of the infinite reality of your own being, Shiva.  But the external object is not the important part.  Your capacity to feel this inner feeling is what matters.

The only thing that blocks that capacity is fear.  Every time you shut the feeling down or when you have trouble allowing it to arise inside, it is because of fear.  The crazy part of this is, when you allow yourself to be filled with this feeling from the inside, you become free from fear!  So, you have to ask, “What can I do to increase my inner capacity?”

Do more yoga.  This does not simply mean that you should do more yoga poses, though they help.  Especially those tailbone release poses, because they free you from fear.  Test it out for yourself.  Anytime you feel any form of fear (anxiety, worry, concern, etc.), just do one of the Svaroopa® yoga poses that release the tensions in your tailbone muscles.  Within a few minutes, the fear is gone.

Now look deeper within for the source of love.  Open your heart on the inside.  Allow the feeling to arise from the infinite within, without depending on any external trigger.  That inner experience will further establish you in freedom from fear, and it becomes something that supports from the inside.

Real yoga is more than just doing yoga poses.  The real yoga is learning to live with your heart always open — open to the inside.  Live with your heart being filled from the inner source, Shiva.  Then you don’t live in the waiting, waiting for an outer object to trigger your inner experience.  You live in the feeling of eternal fulfillment within. Open your heart to the inside — do more yoga!

Originally published February 2003, online access

Process & Purpose

By Swami Nirmalananda

Your body is made of atoms.  Atoms are contracted energy.  The entire life process is one of contraction.  The sweet face of the toddler turns into a teenager in due time, with the requisite negativity and cynicism.  You continue to contract until you die. Except for a few moments here and there, you become more and more contracted until you see the silhouette of your mother or father reflected in the store window you are passing by.  Then you realize you have contracted to be just like those you rebelled against.

Your body shrinks as you age, the adage says.  You see it in your elders and you may have even lost some height yourself.  But it is not “shrinking,” it is just contracting.  Shiva, the One Reality, has chosen to contract for the purpose of manifesting as an individual — you.  Shiva is being many individuals simultaneously, about four billion of them right now.  The purpose is so that Shiva can have the experience of being you, without you knowing the truth that you are individualized consciousness.  This is all just a great masquerade ball.

Process and purpose:  Shiva uses the process of contraction for the purpose of experiencing being an individual.

There are so many different ways of working with your body.  They are not all compatible.  The physical conditioning that produces an Olympic gymnast does not produce a good football player.  The physical changes you get when you begin snowboarding, perform as a dancer or do Pilates don’t help with sciatica or with childbirth.  A furniture mover is not conditioning himself for playing tennis.

Similarly, different systems of yoga are not all compatible.  One system emphasizes strength and stamina, another emphasizes constant movement, and yet another emphasizes attaining a photo-perfect pose.  All of these activities are based on contraction.  You contract certain muscles to accomplish certain types of movements, and along the way (knowingly or unknowingly) you compress your spine.  Svaroopa® yoga decompresses your spine.  It is a completely different process, for a different purpose.

Process and purpose:  exercise uses the process of contraction for the purpose of accomplishing a specific type of activity.

In Svaroopa® yoga, in contrast to exercise or other styles of yoga, we release contraction.  Every class is carefully choreographed to release tensions in the muscles connected to your spine, from your tailbone progressively all the way to the top.  The reasons for this are multi-layered and exquisitely complex, the most important of which is that your body is made of atoms.  Atoms are contracted energy, which contracts by descending from the expansive All-ness and Is-ness, to a single point just below the tip of your tailbone.  This point is smaller than a dot, even smaller than an atom, and it is waiting the opportunity to expand.  Svaroopa® yoga is finding it and expanding it.

The problem is that you are not fully present, not fully enlivened and not fully embodied.  Your body needs you to be present in it.  A vacated body is called a corpse.  The parts of your body where you have pain or problems are the places where you have not been present — they are dying on the vine.  Svaroopa® yoga works expressly to “interweave” you into your body, which creates a powerful healing on all levels of your being.

Probably without realizing it, you spend a lot of time out of your body.  You live in the future or in the past.  Even worse, you spend much of your time in constant frustration because you’re always comparing things with your idea of the way they should be.  The purpose of Svaroopa® yoga is to make you actually arrive in your life and in your body, which is the “interweaving.” In Sanskrit, the word for interweaving is tantraSvaroopa® yoga is a tantra.

Badly misrepresented in the USA, tantra actually means “loom,” the vertical and horizontal threads weaving together to make a whole piece of cloth.  It refers to the physical and the spiritual dimensions of your own being, weaving together to make your life whole.  As a tantra, Svaroopa® yoga shows you how to live your whole life as yoga, how to embrace your life more fully, wholly and completely.

Process and purpose:  Svaroopa® yoga uses the process of systematic and progressive internal release for the purpose of making you more fully alive.

We begin with bringing you into your body.  It is so easy to open up the tensions in your body.  In a few minutes you are genuinely more alive.  You feel and look younger, healthier, and have more strength and stamina, even though you didn’t exercise.  When you release the tensions in your body, you also you calm your mind.  You are less stressed, more joyful, kinder, more loving and more understanding.

Most importantly, this opens up inner experiences beyond your mind.  When you land fully in your own body, the energy of the universe will boomerang from that point at the tip of your tailbone and go back up your spine — from contraction into expansion.  As your practice develops, you will have more and more experiences of the vast reality inside, until you realize you are embodied consciousness.

When you do yoga on a semi-regular-but-still-erratic basis, you get benefits, but with really minimal results.  Your yoga practice is just a way of recovering from life, instead of a way of enlivening yourself fully.  Svaroopa® yoga teachers want to move you in a new and more effective way — to help you become more fully embodied and more fully alive.

Process and purpose:  the process of committed practice provides more progress toward the purpose of becoming more fully enlivened and knowing yourself as embodied consciousness.

You can use yoga to improve your body, and you can even use your body to deprogram your mind.  More than that, you can open your body as the beginning step on the pathway to the more profound dimensions of your being, to discover that you are embodied consciousness.  Do more committed yoga!

 

Originally published January 2003, online access

Story of Ganga

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Ganga was born as the eldest daughter of Himavan, the king of the Himalayas.  She was not only beautiful, but also had the power of purifying anything she touched.  This quality made her a favorite among all, especially the Devas (Gods).  Led by Lord Brahma, they came to Himavan requesting him to let Ganga go with them to the heavenly realm.

Photo via sanatansociety.com

King Himavan was saddened by this request, but for the greater good of the three worlds he agreed to part with his first-born.  He blessed his daughter to go with them and told her to serve them dutifully.  In her absence, it became impossible for the people to live peacefully on the earth.  The Asuras (demons), who hid in the ocean during the day, came out at night and started harassing everyone.  Not knowing what to do, the people decided to hide in caves.

Lord Brahma and the Devas felt sympathy towards the people of earth and decided to help them to find and conquer their mysterious tormenters.  They went to Lord Vishnu, the sustainer of the three worlds, to ask for guidance.  Lord Vishnu told them the only way to defeat the Asuras was to dry up the ocean they hid in.  He then said that Sage Agastya was the only one capable of doing that job.

Photo via hinducosmos.tumblr.com

Hearing this from the Divine Protector, the Devas led by Lord Brahma went to see Sage Agastya.  The great sage agreed to help the Devas by drinking up the ocean.  This exposed the Asuras, helping the Devas vanquish the Asuras.  The Devas pleaded with Agastya to fill up the ocean with the water again, but the sage couldn’t do it as he had already digested it.

Devastated, the Devas ran back to Lord Vishnu seeking help to solve the new problem.  Vishnu told them that only the descendants of King Sagara could cause the ocean to be filled up again, so they needed to be patient as Sagara had no children yet.

King Sagara was yearning for heirs, so he decided to perform intense tapas (yogic austerities) dedicated to Lord Shiva, to win the boon of having children.  Lord Shiva responded, appearing to King Sagara and his two wives.  Shiva was pleased by their devotion and granted the boon.  By this boon, Keshini gave birth to one son and Sumati gave birth to the 60,000 sons.  While Sumati’s 60,000 sons grew up conscious of their royal status, Keshini’s son Asamanja was a wicked prince.  However, Asamanja was the only son who had a son, Amsuman.  He was opposite of his father, strong and brave like his uncles, also kind and loving.

King Sagara decided to perform the great Ashwamedha Yaj~na to earn the blessings of gods, making him a mighty king.  In an Ashwamedha Yaj~na, a horse was set free with an army following it.  As the horse goes where it likes, if no one opposes it and imprisons it, it then returns to the yaj~na location.  If the horse is imprisoned, the king must free it by peace or by force.

Indra, the king of Devas, suspected his own position would be threatened by Sagara’s Ashwamedha Yaj~na, so Indra stole the horse and tied it to a tree at Sage Kapila’s ashram.  When the horse didn’t return, King Sagara ordered his 60,000 sons to find it.  After a long search, they found the horse in Sage Kapila’s ashram and accused Sage Kapila of stealing the horse.

Photo via pinterest.com

Angered by their audacity, the powerful sage opened his third eye and burned all of them to ashes, cursing their souls to be stuck in the world with no liberation and no heaven.  When his 60,000 uncles didn’t return, Amsuman went in search of them and the horse.  Finding the horse at Sage Kapila’s ashram, unlike his uncles, Amsuman greeted the sage with great respect and inquired of his uncles.  Discovering what had happened, grieving, he asked the sage for a way to liberate his uncles’ souls and send them to heaven.  The sage replied that the only way would be to bring Ganga to earth and make her touch the ashes, thus purifying their souls.  Kapila allowed Amsuman to take the horse back with him because Amsuman was patient and righteous.  Amsuman told King Sagara, his grandfather, about his uncles’ ill fate and the remedy given by Sage Kapila himself.

For many years, King Sagara, Amsuman and his son Dilipa tried but failed to bring Ganga to earth.  Day and night, the thought of the fate of the 60,000 princes tormented all of them.  Dilipa’s son, Bhagiratha made a vow at his father’s deathbed that he wouldn’t ascend the throne until he brought Ganga to earth.

Bhagiratha did severe tapas and meditation for several years, dedicating them to Lord Brahma.  Pleased by Bhagiratha’s efforts, Lord Brahma appeared before him and granted him the boon to bring Ganga back to earth.  He also said that Bhagiratha would need the assistance of Lord Shiva to soften her fall onto the earth, as no one else would be able to bear the force of her descent from the heaven.

Photo via vijayagalagali.blogspot.com

Hearing this, Bhagiratha performed many more years of tapas and meditation, dedicated to Lord Shiva.  Lord Shiva appeared and agreed to receive Ganga on her descent to earth.  But Shiva warned Bhagiratha that Ganga should be conducted properly on earth, because she is so used to flowing anywhere at her own will.

After all Bhagiratha’s great efforts, at last Ganga started to descend to earth.  Being willful and powerful, she decided that she would come down in a torrent and sweep away everything in her path.  Shiva foresaw her intention and imprisoned her in his matted hair, only letting her flow onto earth after Bhagiratha’s plea.

As Ganga started flowing as a river on earth, Bhagiratha steered her to Sage Kapila’s ashram.  As Ganga was sanctified again by Lord Shiva’s hair, on the way to Sage Kapila’s ashram, she washed away all the sins of the people whom she touched.

Photo via indianetzone.com

But, along her way, she capriciously flooded sage Jahnu’s ashram, only to be swallowed up by the great angry sage.  Again, Bhagiratha had to pacify a great sage to release her.  Jahnu poured her out through his ear, so she is called Jahnavi, the daughter of Jahnu.

After being released, Ganga flowed over the ashes of the sons of Sagara, purifying them and releasing them to go to heaven.  Then she reached the ocean bed, filling the ocean up again.  Since she was brought back to the earth by Bhagiratha’s great penance Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi.

alamy.com

Her earthly body as a river still flows today, with her purifying everyone who comes to her.  When Brahma granted the boon that brought her back to earth, she resisted because she would collect so many sins and impurities from the millions of people who would bathe in her.  Shiva promised her that she would be freed from the weight of those burdens any time a great being stepped in her waters.

How Much Yoga is Enough – For You?

By Swami Nirmalananda

When you decide how much yoga you are going to do, you are deciding two things:

(1) what to do with some available time (a simple thing), and

(2) what your goal in life is (a really big deal!).

You are really choosing —do you want to be happy or do you want to be bliss-full?  These are very different things.  The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to consider why you do the things that you do — are you using yoga to help you pursue success, to improve yourself or to delve into consciousness?

In the name of success, you try to manage the people and things in your life, or you try to acquire more of both.  If you are able to manage everything, then you can finally be happy.  But you run into a few hurdles.  Happiness through attaining success is possible, but just barely.  Along the way, it is very stressful.  You can do yoga just to recover from the strain; it balances out the rest of your life.  In this case, attending a yoga class once or twice per week will be enough, or your home practice makes you better able to handle everything again the next day.

The Yoga Vasishtha says that a wise person is one who learns from the experiences of others without having to repeat them personally.  If you look around you, you will see that those pursuing success are not happy.  Whether they are pursuing success in things or in relationships, their experience of happiness comes and goes.  It never lasts because something always needs fixing.  You can learn from their life, a form of wisdom.

A wise person knows that happiness actually comes from an inner change, not from managing outer events.  As you open the tensions in your spine, your whole sense of self opens up — this is called transformation.  Your reactions to external events become different; you take things in stride more easily.  You see your life more clearly and to make decisions based on your newfound inner clarity.  The people and things in your life benefit from your inner transformation as you use yoga as the catalyst to personal transformation.  If you are doing yoga for personal transformation, then you need to do more yoga.

Patanjali explains this in a sutra:

mrdu-madhy-aadhimaatratvaat tato’pi visheshah. —Yoga Sutras 1.22

Your rate of progress depends on how much practice you do:  mild, medium or intense. [rendered by Swami Nirmalananda]

Mild practice is described above:  to balance out the stress that comes from your pursuit of the perfect life.  Your weekly yoga class or 20-minute daily practice clears tensions from your muscles and stress hormones from your blood, so you can go back to the endeavors that will create success in the significant parts of your life.

To live in the inner peace that arises from doing yoga, you need to do more — a medium amount.  You need at least 45 minutes per day, and to include meditation in your practice.  The inner world is fluid:  you are either progressing into more openness or you are backsliding into fixity.  You cannot maintain — you must progress.  For this, you need a medium amount of practice.

Using yoga in this way, to create personal transformation, is a beautiful and powerful practice.  Yet yoga offers you much more.  Yoga is specifically for the purpose of transcending your idea of who you are, not merely transforming it.  You know this from the best Shavasana, or from even a few moments of sitting perfectly still in a seated pose or after a twist.  The vastness of your own inner essence becomes undeniable.

Each time that you do Svaroopa® yoga, the spinal decompression creates an opening to the innermost dimensions of your own existence.  To take advantage of this opening, you need to take some time to delve inward more deeply so your inner experience leaves an imprint on your mind.  This is especially true in meditation.  Each time your mind is imprinted by the Self, it becomes less of an obstacle and more and more clear — so you can see through it to the Self.  Now you’re using yoga for its original purpose —  for the inner discovery of your own Divinity, and for living in this expansive inner Beingness all the time.

If this is your goal, you need to do even more yoga.  If the inner experience is the most significant thing in your life, then meditation becomes the cornerstone of your daily practice.  The opening of your spine opens you into meditation, and the poses also prepare your body to hold the richness of that inner experience.  Your body must be transformed in order to be the vehicle of the Self — the means by which that joy and love is expressed into the world.

Your entire life becomes the conduit of consciousness, but only if you want it to.  For this goal, one hour daily can be your basic practice, with a few days each week where you allow yourself the indulgence of more time — up to three hours, but not more.  Your maximum is three hours per day.  As long as you have your work and your relationships, this maximum will work well for you.

At this point, some of you are thinking that three hours of yoga and meditation a day is pure craziness — and others are thinking that anyone who tries to get by on 20 minutes per day is crazy.  Please read through all of this again; the important part is not the amount of time.  The important part is your goal.

If you want success most of all, then you should not do three hours of yoga a day — you will be supported in achieving success by doing 20 minutes per day.  This is a good choice for you.  If you want transformation, or if you want to know consciousness, then 20 minutes won’t do it.  You have to make a different choice.

You do decide, every day, how much yoga you will do and what your goal is.  Even if you decide to not decide, you have made a choice.  It’s time to make a choice, even to make a resolution — a New Year’s resolution.  For my choice – I always say, “Do more yoga!”

Originally published January 2004

The Gift and Power of Mantra

by Yogeshwari (Lissa) Fountain

Of all the yoga tools at your disposal, mantra repetition is the most effective and empowering.  It is spiritual energy distilled into a word form.  It clears through the debris of your mind, those diverse patterns painstakingly instilled through lifetimes.  Swami Nirmalananda promises that this will enable you to live in “progressively more and more clarity and integrity, leading to transparency.”

When you look through a grimy windshield, you may still be able to see through the schmutz, but your vision is impaired and the light diffused.  Mantra dissolves the layers of schmutz in your mind.  As your mind gets clearer, the radiance of your own inner light shines through.

There are ways to incorporate mantra into your life.  Out loud repetition is called “japa,” best done with 108 repetitions at a time, moving the rudrakhsa beads on your mala to keep track of the count and to stay on-focus.

You can do internal japa, repeating mantra silently, not only for meditation but in the midst of life.  In this way, mantra becomes a background hum of Beingness,  instead of your mind’s habitual background noise of what to do next, who said such and such, and “I’m not good enough.”  By continually repeating your mantra, you will no longer be perpetually looking outside of yourself for happiness and completion.  You’ll know:  I am already That.

Recently on retreat in India, I spent 20 days being bathed in the sound current of ancient, primordial mantras from the Vedas.  We did yaj~nas (Vedic fire ceremonies), pujas (worshipping different gods) and sunrise and sunset “agni hotras” (mini-fire ceremonies).

The mantras chanted were wholly unfamiliar, yet I could feel their purifying powers working on me, beyond my mind.  The priests would chant the mantras in a steady and rapid stream of sound that became a sacred cosmic vibration.

As I allowed myself to be carried along in this current, there was a cleansing of my mind, dissolving of decades of societal conditionings.  I cannot tell you how this works, only that it feels like a surrender into God’s voice, by becoming the One that moves from the outside-in and from the inside-out.

“Mantra repetition gives you the opportunity to start clearing out your mind,

so you can live in progressively more and more clarity and integrity,

leading to transparency.” — Swami Nirmalananda

When you repeat mantra in the midst of life’s activity, it dissolves the duality that keeps you trapped in your mind’s preferences, always saying, “This is Divine but that is not.”  Some layers of artifice were taken on by Shiva in becoming you, but you have layered more in there, creating and reinforcing one superficial identity after another.

But with mantra repetition, it’s easier to live a life of integrity: who you are on the outside, matches who you feel yourself to be on the inside.  And this leads to transparency, the ability to see all the way through to the Self in yourself, and in everyone and everything.  There’s nothing to hide anymore, no one to judge, because you find your Self in everything you see.

Is this an easy path? Try remembering to repeat mantra all day long, and then you tell me.  I find it far easier to quiet my mind by dipping repeatedly into a bowl of popcorn!

But mantra is a Divine and longer-lasting intervention for your mind.  This helps you recognize what a trickster your mind actually is.  It will have a thousand ways to tempt you with “small-s self” sabotage.  Yet Swami Nirmalananda has given us a mantra “to save us from ourselves”.  All we need to do, is to repeat it.

OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah

To your inherent Divinity again and again I bow

The Mystical Importance of Your Spine

 

By Mangala Allen & Swami Nirmalananda

Your essence is Beingness. There is nothing that you are not.  Your essence, this Beingness, contracted to form matter out of energy in order to become you.  Consciousness creates your spine in order to take on form:  creating your heart, mind and body.  The movement is toward contraction.  This contraction continues throughout your life as your spine tightens and shortens.  We call it aging.  You are shrinking.

Svaroopa® Yoga’s spinal decompression reverses this process.  As you release the tension in your spine, your process becomes one of expansion — both outer expansion and inner expansion.  It is through the inner expansion that you come to know yourself as the Consciousness you have always been.  This makes your spine very important indeed!

“Your spine is the conduit of consciousness.”

— Swami Nirmalananda (Physics, Anatomy and Yoga, 2/2006)

SPINE www.thinglink.com

The energy of consciousness contracted inward and downward, becoming most concentrated at the base of your spine, which is at the bottom tip of your tailbone.  The process of expansion must begin here.  It is when you release tensions in your tailbone muscles that contraction boomerangs toward expansion.  An inner awakening occurs and a higher frequency of energy begins arising within you, Kundalini.  This is your very essence arising to meet you so you can know your Self.

Unfortunately, you have been working hard to maintain, even to propel, the momentum toward contraction through your life choices.  This makes you become tighter within your body, as well as small-minded and less tolerant of the world around you.  You want it your way and you want it your way now!

When you make the choice to intervene in the process, you actively work to decompress and expand, beginning the process of discovering your own Self as Consciousness-Itself.  You develop an ease of being.  You enjoy living in your own skin.  You develop gratitude for your life experiences, even the tough ones.

Swami Nirmalananda adds, “You don’t merely connect to your Self, but you become your Self.  This is the transformation that makes you able celebrate life in every moment.”  You discover upwelling joy arising within you; it is available to you always.   You no longer need everything to line up just so in order for you to be happy.  You enjoy life because you are happy to be alive.

When you recognize yourself as Divine, you realize that everyone and everything else is Divine, too!  This is the mystery, finding Divinity in everything, from the smallest grain of sand to the ever-expanding cosmos and beyond.  There is nothing that is not Shiva (Consciousness).  To know this is ecstatic beyond description.

I can describe all this because I have experienced this, going through this expansion process guaranteed by Svaroopa® yoga.  This path of expansion is a path of Grace, which my teacher got from her teacher.  Since I met Swami Nirmalananda, I have been transforming.  Now I enjoy life and even welcome its challenges.  Nothing outside of me has changed significantly, but how I view it and the choices I make in my life have.  This is due to the expansion I am experiencing since stepping onto this yogic path.   It is very important to open the pathway of your spine.

 “The release beginning at your tailbone provides:

1) Profound physical benefits,

2) transformative changes that effect how you feel in your life, and

3) the awakening of a profound energy flow through your spine,

assuring you to access of your own Divinity.”

 — Swami Nirmalananda

(Your Spine: Anatomy, Energy & Consciousness, May 2013)

When your spine is open, you will experience deep meditation.  This absorption into your own Self is where the inner transformation arises from.  Then you are able to bring your Self into your life.  It’s absolutely amazing!

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo namah

To your inherent Divinity again and again I bow

 

Markandeya: The Deathless Boy

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

The sage Mrikandu and his wife Marudhvati were devotees of Lord Shiva.  They spent most of their time singing the songs of the Lord and spreading his stories everywhere.  However they did not have any children, though they had been married for a long time.

They decided to perform intense tapas (austerities) in order to please Lord Shiva and win His blessing to have children.  Finally pleased with their penances, Lord Shiva appeared before them.  He said, “I am pleased by your devotion.  Ask from me any boon you desire.”

Mrikandu and his wife were overjoyed.  Mrikandu said: “O Lord Shiva! We are childless.  Grant us a son.”  The Lord replied, “Do you desire to have a virtuous, wise and pious son who will live only sixteen years or a dull-witted, evil-natured son who will live a long time?”  The sage and his wife did not hesitate over the choice.  They did not want an evil- natured son, so they wished for the first.  Lord Shiva blessed them, granted their request and disappeared.  Marudvati gave birth to a boy, who they named Markandeya.

Markandeya was indeed a very gifted child.  He mastered all the Vedas and scriptures while he was very young.  He also loved his parents very much.  Watching them from his childhood, Markandeya also became a faithful devotee of Lord Shiva.  He loved singing bhajans (poems) for Lord Shiva, losing himself in thinking of the Lord.  He spent his days very happily, delighting everyone by his charms and pleasant behavior.

But the parents were sad at heart.  Whenever they looked at their son, a gloom spread over their face.  They did not tell Markandeya that he was destined to a short life, but he was very intelligent, and sensed that his parents were unhappy about something.  No matter how hard he tried, his parents remained unhappy.  They seemed to put on a happy face when he was around, but deep inside he could sense their sorrow.

The sixteenth year was fast approaching.  One day, unable to control their grief, they wept in front him.  Markandeya asked them gently the reason for their grief.  Mrikandu, with tears running down his cheeks, said, “O my son! According to Lord Shiva”s boon you are destined to live only for sixteen years.  How can we withstand this? We are helpless and do not know what to do.”  Markandeya consoled his parents, saying that death was not a thing for wise people to dread.  It is as natural as birth.

The next day he came to them and said, “Dear father and mother, do not worry for me.  Bless me that I may succeed in winning over death.  Permit me to perform tapas to please the Lord.”   His parents could not help but feel optimistic when they heard the words of the boy.  The parents blessed him wholeheartedly and sent him for penance.

He came to the seashore and felt peaceful.  Using the mud there, he lovingly built a Shiva Linga.  He sat down there and started his prayers.  He sang bhajans and then started to meditate.

Yama, the Lord of Death, realized that Markandeya”s time on earth was up.  He sent two servants to collect Markandeya”s soul.  However, by this time Markandeya was very deep in meditation.  Yama”s servants came to take his life but they could not approach him as the radiation from him was too intense for them.  Facing failure for the first time, the servants returned to their master.

Yama himself came on his black buffalo.  In his hand, He had the well-known noose for taking the young lad’s soul from his body and carrying it away.  Yama saw the young devotee engaged in the worship of Lord Shiva.  Yama could not let the worship be completed if his duty as the God of Death was to be properly performed.  Normally invisible to human eyes, this time Yama was forced to show himself to the young boy, by virtue of the latter’s intense goodness and devotion to God.  “Markandeya,” Yama spoke deeply, “your time on earth is up…”

Markandeya opened his eyes and looked at Yama, but did not get afraid.  He looked at Yama in the eye.  “I will not go with you until I finish my prayers.”  Yama repeated, “Your time on earth is up.  I have to take you now.”

Markandeya smiled, shook his head and hugged the Shiva Linga tightly.  Realizing that only Shiva could help him, Markandeya closed his eyes tightly, praying to the Lord.  Yama threw his rope with the loop.  It encircled Markandeya”s neck along with the Shiva Linga.  All at once, the Shiva Linga split into two and out came Lord Shiva, trident in hand.  He kicked Yama aside and killed him.

The assembly of Devas (Gods), with their Lord Indra, immediately appeared before Lord Shiva.  They begged Shiva to revive Yama, as a world without death would put unnecessary burden on the earth.  Shiva revived Yama and declared, “Markandeya will live forever.  He will be the one who has conquered death.”

Yama opened his eyes as the wound in his chest healed.  He looked at Markandeya, smiled and prayed to Lord Shiva.  Then Yama disappeared from there with the other Devas.

Markandeya then fell at the feet of Lord Shiva, “Lord, since I have seen you, I want nothing more.”  Lord Shiva smiled and said, “Go back to your parents, Markandeya.  Look after them for their life span.  After that, roam the earth and help others.  You will remain sixteen for all eternity.  You will always have my blessings.”

Markandeya went back to his parents, who were overjoyed on hearing his story.  He indeed looked very well after his parents.  He never aged more than sixteen.

The form which Lord Shiva took on in order to kill Yama is called as “Kalasamhara Murti.” “Kala” is Death, “Samhara” is ender, “Murti” is form.

Hindus believe that Markandeya is still alive and roaming the earth, continuing to do good to all.  He is a chiranjeevi, one who lives forever.  Markandeya, also known as Mrityunjaya, gave the “Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra” to the world, the fear-dispelling mantra.

OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah

Complete Freedom and Joy

By Yogeshwari Fountain & Swami Nirmalananda

“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun.  I will touch a hundred flowers, and not pick one!” — Edna St. Vincent Millay

To look out upon a field of flowers, to smell or touch their delicate beauty, without the desire to pick even one, is a state worth aspiring to.  To be experiencing the bliss of Beingness, while experiencing the world, so you don’t need to grab at the things around you.

Even when you forget your inherent Divinity, you have always been Divine.  While you are a bound soul, yet you have infinite capacity for freedom and joy.  Yoga says you have to learn how to stay involved, genuinely caring for others and enjoying the things of life without depending on them for your sense of self.  It’s not easy.

Your “small-s” self gets entangled in your senses, making your sense of personal worth ride on the outcome.  It comes down to how you use your mind.  It can either be an instrument of pure perception or a sticky Velcro strip, attaching to what you experience, need or want.  Yoga sets you free.

“Your mind becomes free from all desires, for externals, and for things promised in the scriptures, giving a state of complete freedom and joy.”  — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.15 (rendered by Swami Nirmalananda)

To realize yoga’s promise for yourself, you have to work on yourself.  Built into every desire is a dependency.  Every desire props up a personal identity.  If you don’t fulfill that desire, you feel like you’re going to die!  That’s because your identity depends on that thing for its very existence.

Each of your many identities is part of creating your sense of meaning and purpose in life.  This is a shaky platform, indeed.  When your propping gets knocked out from under you, which life guarantees will happen, who will you be?

You are more than your current identity; you are more than all your identities put together.  You cultivate these many identities because, at the root, you’ve forgotten that you are God.  The ancient sages called this spiritual amnesia, “avidyaa”, the not knowing of your own Divinity.  I know it well:  the indefinable angst that haunted me all my life, until I found my inner Self.

Last month I got entangled in a family drama.  My siblings and I were grieving the death of our mother, so there were the predictable irrational flare-ups.  Each of us wanting our own way, defending our superficial identities.  In frustration, there were moments I wanted to withdraw, to “detach.”   You know how that looks.  You throw up your hands, and say,” I’m done” or, “I’ve had it” or, “I’m out of here!”   But the truth is, yogis don’t bolt.  Nor can they rest on their “spiritual” laurels.  Thus, any discomfort becomes an opportunity for inner clearing and growth.

I could see that, having been my mother’s primary caregiver, I was now reluctant to share the responsibility with my siblings.  My desire “to serve” wasn’t as selfless as I’d thought.  I was surprised to find how dependent I’d become on the identity of the self-sacrificing daughter, capable of doing everything.  In the moment I became aware of this identity, one of the kleshas, something shifted inside.  I was able to let go.  My breath opened up and the energy starting flowing again.  Grace swooped in and freed me.  I could interact with my family lovingly, without being limited by the old stories and my shaky identities.

How do you base yourself in Self?  Moving past your most cherished delusions to the light of consciousness requires an intervention — the cosmic force of Grace, revealing your Divinity again.  Relying on common sense won’t do it.  You know this because you’ve tried, many times before!

In Sanskrit, the name of this cosmic force of revelation is “Guru.:  Swami Nirmalananda is a living manifestation of that conduit of grace.  She reveals to you who you really are, Consciousness-Itself.

“Your mind becomes free from all desires, for externals, and for things promised in the scriptures, giving a state of complete freedom and joy.”

When you abide in such complete freedom and joy, you can participate in what life has to offer without needing it to fulfill you.  The sutra promises that you won’t even cling to the desired results of your spiritual practices!  You could pour yourself into your yoga, without even the need to become enlightened.  Imagine repeating mantra for the pure devotion of it, not so you’ll be happier or calmer, or so that your life will improve (although it will).  Imagine, being the gladdest thing under the sun!  You will touch a hundred flowers, and no longer need to pick one.