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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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)


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.

Story of Kannappa Nayanar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Nagan was a tribal chief in the jungle area of Potthapi.  He and his wife Thaththai didn’t have children for a very long time and were praying to Lord Karttikeya (Shiva’s son).  They were blessed with a son whom they named Thinnan.

Thinnan grew up to be a reputed archer in his tribe; he often led his people on hunting expeditions.  On one such hunt, Thinnan was separated from his friends chasing a wild boar and found himself in an unknown part of the jungle.  Trying to find his way out, he came across a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The shrine was a small one, consisting of just a Shiva Linga, but was clean and neat.  Thinnan found himself inexplicably attracted to the Linga.  He was filled with a desire to make an offering to the Deity.  Thinnan had no idea about the rituals to perform the proper ceremonies to the Lord.  He was so consumed with love that he decided to offer the meat he had with him.

This shrine, called Thirukalahasti, was a very ancient one, cared for by a brahman who lived in the nearest town, many miles away.  The poor brahman was an ardent devotee of Shiva, but could not make the long journey every day, so he came to the shrine once a fortnight, bringing the items of puja (worship) with him.  He cleaned and prayed to the Deity and made his offerings before returning home.

The brahman returned to the shrine the day after Thinnan had made his offerings, and was shocked to see meat lying next to the Linga.  He assumed that some animals must have left the meat there.  He cleaned it well with fresh water from a nearby stream before continuing with his routine.  The brahman left that day satisfied that he had done his duty.

The next day, Thinnan returned, bringing more meat.  He did not know any prayers or rituals, so he spent some time talking to the Lord and pouring out his heart.  This gave him so much pleasure & peace that he started coming every day, bringing with him the catch of the day.

One day as he walked towards the shrine he saw some beautiful flowers. He plucked some for his Lord and saved them in his hair, as he was carrying the day’s catch in both arms.  Then he noticed a small stream flowing nearby and had an idea, “How nice it would be to give a bath to the Lord!”  He then bent and filled water into his mouth and went to the shrine where he spit the water from his mouth on the Linga, thus bathing the Lord.  He happily made his offerings and spoke to the Lord before leaving for the day.

The next time the brahman returned to the shrine, the sight he saw repulsed him.  There was meat all over the place again, and this time, the Shiva Linga was covered by spittle.  “This was not the work of an animal, but a human being! How could anyone thus defile the Lord?”  He patiently cleaned up the shrine before chanting the mantras, purifying the Linga and making his offerings.  Again, he left, having done his duty, hoping & praying that such disrespect would not occur again.

But he saw the same thing every time he arrived there.  Heartbroken by the situation, he could not control his tears and addressed Shiva aloud, “O Lord, you are the purest of all, the greatest of all Gods.  How can you allow such indignities to happen to you yourself? You are the protector of the universe.  Please protect yourself from such acts.”

Lord Shiva was moved by the brahman’s plea and spoke out to his devotee, “My dear devotee, what you consider indignities is the offering made to me by another devotee.  He knows nothing of rituals and practices but, like you, he loves me with all his heart.  I am bound by his devotion, and have to accept all that he offers me.  If you wish to see the extent of his love for me, hide somewhere and see what happens.  It is time for him to come.”

The brahman was curious about this devotee whom the Lord himself praised.  The brahman hid himself behind some bushes.  Thinnan came very soon, as usual carrying meat in his hands, flowers in his hair and water in his mouth.

As usual Thinnan started his routine of bathing the Shiva Linga & offering what he brought to the Lord.  Suddenly, he noticed that there was something oozing from the Lord’s left eye.  Horrified, he ran and collected herbs and applied them to the eye, hoping to cure the problem.  It only made it worse, for blood started oozing.  He tried out a few more remedies, none of which worked.

Finally, he decided that the only way he could solve the problem was by offering the Lord his own eye.  Taking one of his knives, he cut his left eye out of its socket, and placed it on the Linga.  At once, the blood stopped oozing, and Thinnan heaved a sigh of relief.  He started dancing around with joy.

Suddenly, he was shocked to notice that the Lord’s right eye was now bleeding in the same way.  He now knew the solution and decided to offer his other eye too.  But once he had taken his right eye out, how would he see where to place it? He pondered for a minute and came up with a solution.  Lifting one of his feet, he placed it on the place where the Lord had his right eye.  With his knife, proceeded to take out his right eye from its socket.

Shiva could not bear to see this great sacrifice by his devotee and appeared in front of him.  At once, Thinnan regained his sight and prostrated fully before the Lord.  The brahman too came out from hiding and bowed before the Lord.

Lord Shiva blessed both of them and praised them for their devotion, given in their own way.  He especially lauded Thinnan, and declared him to be a saint – a Nayanar, as the greatest of Shiva’s devotees were known.  Since he had given up his eyes (“kann” means “eye” in Tamil) for the Lord, he would henceforth be known as Kannappa Nayanar.

Om Namah Shivaya

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

The Importance of Your Mind

by Mangala Allen

Your mind is important. Respect your mind’s power and direct it for your benefit. You can enjoy what your mind gives you or you can suffer from the condition of your mind.

“The condition of your mind is of the greatest importance according to yoga.”  — Swami Nirmalananda (The Pairs of Opposites)

When your mind is busy, you experience an endless stream of thoughts. They can even tumble around running into one another. Sometimes it’s hard to follow one train of thought without getting derailed and following a different train. Following multiple trains at the same time is now mainstream.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Some reports say you think 65,000 thoughts a single day. These thoughts are seldom relevant to the present moment. You think about the past and how you wanted things to be different.  You think about the future, about how you would like things to be. You spend an abundance of time thinking about how you might proceed in order to achieve what you desire.

It is so easy it is to get lost in your thoughts. You even begin to believe you are your thoughts. You believe what your mind tells you, whether true or not. Your mind can create many stories based on untruths.

A friend of mine, whose opinion I greatly respected, came to see a performance I was in. I looked for her afterward, anxious to hear what she thought of the production. She was nowhere to be found. For her to rush out so quickly, I was sure I must have been just awful. I began to think about how difficult it would be for me to get cast in another show after performing so poorly. I tied myself up in knots imagining all sorts of scenarios. It turned out she hadn’t made it to the performance after all. All my imaginings were for naught. I created my own suffering. I let my mind convince me of things that were simply untrue.

“The condition of your mind is of the greatest importance, according to yoga.”
— Swami Nirmalananda

Yoga reveres a quiet mind. Yoga’s practices quiet your mind for you. It is when your mind becomes quiet that you can truly experience and appreciate the wonder of your essence, called “Self.”

You experience your own Self in meditation. Each time your mind becomes still you have an experience of Self.  Learn to steep in this profound experience. You saturated your mind with the Self and bring more and more of you into your life. You live from a deeper level instead of from your head or heart. Your mind becomes very different. It is not disturbed by anything.

“Everyone has a conflict going on between the heart and the head, between stillness and mental agitation.”
— Swami Muktananda (From the Finite to the Infinite, page 388)

I am fortunate to have a teacher who has helped me understand the importance of the condition of my mind.  She taught me the practices she learned from her teacher. I am learning day by day to live from my own Self and let my mental agitation go. I am truly on a path of Grace.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo namaha

To your Inherent Divinity again and again I bow



Yogic Nourishment

By Mati (Sandra) Gilbert

Food is important.  People eat to get nourished and to feel satisfied.  Though food can never fully nourish you and fully satisfy you, you try.  Yet what is lacking is your own Self for the food that is nourishing to a yogi is to know your own divinity.

You decide whether to pursue excess eating and drinking as well as fighting and the other instinctual pleasures of the world.  Animals pursue these activities.  What separates you from them is the ability to find and know your own Divinity.  Only human beings have the capacity to know the divine Consciousness vibrating within.  The study of sutras is one of the yogic practices that moves you toward your Self.

J-naanam anna.m

Knowledge is Food.  Pure knowledge is the only real nourishment, that which gives full satisfaction.  — Shiva Sutras 2.9, rendered by Swami Nirmalananda

You gain yogic knowledge in order to pursue the bliss of knowing your inherent Divinity.    Once you know and abide in the knowledge that you are Divine, you experience the world on a whole new level.  You still participate in activities of the world, but those activities do not consume you.  You remain established in the knowledge of your Self.

For the last several months, the challenges in my personal life has kept me in a constant turmoil.  As a yogi, I had the tools — mantra and meditation — to keep me grounded to some degree.  I used those tools but there were periods of time when my personal challenges seemed to win.  My small “s” self was powerful.

Swami Nirmalananda, my teacher, came to our yoga studio to hold a meditation satsang last month.  Just seeing her face made me feel better and more secure.  She gave a lecture on the ocean, how both the waves and deep water interact and how they are different.  My personal challenges were the waves, which kept me in a constant state of frustration and impatience.

Seeing and hearing the wisdom in her words made me yearn for the deep ocean where it is calm.  In this state, I am my capital-S Self: knowing I am more that my current emotional state.  I am Divine.  Do I lose my Self from time to time?  Yes. However, each time is shorter and less stressful.  I become more centered in my Self every time I say mantra and meditate.  Swamiji’s presence and love keeps me more grounded in my Self.

Yes, food is important.  It is a way to keep your body and mind healthy.  Getting the teachings about the Self truly nourishes your inner yearning.  Once I found my teacher, and through the Grace that flows through her to me, I now know I am Divine.   And my goal for today and the future is to always live in the knowingness that I am Consciousness-itself.  Even though you are always the Self, knowledge of the Self is the rarest of gifts, and it comes only through the Grace of the Guru.

A Divine Transition

By Yogeshwari Fountain

I thought I understood the nature of Aatmaa, your Divine Self.  It made sense to me that “the formlessness of your inner Essence, Aatmaa, is eternal and never decays.  You are an infinite being, having a human experience.” Yes!  However, I now realize that what you learn with your mind is nothing compared to what you experience in your heart.  You may think you understand something, but until you experience it on the inside, it remains a theory.

I recently had the privilege of tending to and being present with my mother through the last week of her life.  Day by day, I experienced the truth of Shankaracharya’s Vivekachudamani:

“Aatmaan is birthless and deathless.  It neither grows nor decays.  It is unchangeable, eternal.  It does not dissolve when your body dissolves.”

As her body systematically shut down, she shed her limitations; the radiance of the One Self being her expanded exponentially.  I sat in awe.  I chanted mantras.  I lay beside her in bed and read to her, and did mundane things like manicures and looking through photos.  I listened to her process, how she was figuring out what was left to be resolved, as she shared her vivid dream life and random thoughts.  She was shifting in and out of God’s time, the Eternal Self.

I stayed steady in my own Self, going along on an amazing cosmic ride through time and space.  This openness utterly took me by surprise.  Fear of my mother’s death had haunted me since childhood.  As a dear friend reminded me, I’d told her to expect me calling in hysterics when Mom passed.  Yet, when she did, I was sad yet fearless, and grateful for it all.  Even as I was surrounded by other’s deep grief, I felt full inside, closer to my mom than ever.  What happened? How did she cross the ocean of this world without me being shattered?

First, I was aware that Aatmaa was not born when my mother was born!  Aatmaa is being all that exists in form, and beyond form, while being you, me and everything.  This Self that you are is sustaining you, bringing your mind and senses into existence: making your eyes able to see, your ears hear, your tongue taste, and your mind think.  Yet when each of these senses dissolve, which I witnessed happening in my mom, Aatmaa does not die.  There is no death, even as the physical body decays and expires.

As my mom’s desires and identities faded away, there was only Presence left.  It didn’t feel like our relationship was slipping away, but actually solidifying.  There was more of me with her than ever before.  I was experiencing svaroopavidya; the experiential knowing of my own Self.

Most people view death as a transition into a better “place,” moving into the light or finding God at last.  But a yogi doesn’t wait until death for the liberation of the light, of God, of knowing the Self.  The purpose of a yogi’s whole life is to live in the Self NOW.  Teachers take it to another level, spreading that inner effulgence into the world.  Without the practices of yoga, I would not have been was able to abide in such peace during my mom’s transition.

I was also given the great gift of time (years of caregiving with my mom) and a supportive and loving husband.  And throughout it all, I felt cocooned within my Guru’s grace.  I realized that without Shaktipat initiation, I would have been burdened by the weight of my past karmas, stuck in my head, stuck in my “stuff.”  Instead, I felt clear and present.  Without mantra repetition, my mind might have spun into old limited fears around death.  And without the foundation of meditation, I would have been lost!  In Swami Muktananda’s book Does Death Really Exist?, he describes it this way:

“When we meditate, we become established in the seat of the inner Self, and then we are liberated from death.”

I will be learning from my mother’s departure for many years to come.  It will be an integral part of my sadhana, and of what I know myself to be, Consciousness-Itself.  On the day of her death, my family and I walked along the beach.  It was a glorious Indian summer day.  The monarch butterflies were everywhere!  “A sign from mom” they said joyfully, “there she is!” I said to myself, “Yes, and there I am”.  For in yoga, there is no here or there, no you or me, no beginning and no end.  There I am, there you are, being Shiva, for there is only the One, being All.

OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah