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

Let It Shine, Let It Shine!

By Mangala Allen

Thousands of years ago, yoga’s sages explained that energy became light. Light became matter. Everything is made of light.  Scientists now agree, calling it the Big Bang, but they’re still trying to figure it all out.  Yoga explains it fully:

“The Big Bang was not an explosion, with light expanding into a field of darkness. It was an implosion, with Shiva contracting within Shiva’s own being to contract light into matter and bring the universe into existence.”  — Swami Nirmalananda (Dark & Light, December 2010)

This means you are made of light. More than that, you are the source of the light that has become the universe.  It shines from within your being. So, let it shine!

While you are the light of Consciousness, Consciousness took on contraction to become you. A human life is a process of contraction until you decide to go the other way, embracing a process of expansion. Yoga begins the expansion by helping you become present in your own body.

Svaroopa® yoga poses accomplish this by dissolving the unnecessary tensions in your body. When you release these physical tensions, your mind becomes calm. When your mind is calm, you experience who you are — beyond your mind. You know your Self as the light of Consciousness you are.

My teacher, Swami Nirmalananda, says, “You are that light, that presence, that beingness. You are that which the ancient yogis called That.”

While you are born into contraction, the ultimate purpose of human life is to turn that process around, so you can expand into your That-ness. Yoga specializes in inner expansion, the process by which your light shines from your innermost being, fills you from the inside and flows into your life. Yoga removes the blocks that prevent your light from pervading your body and shining into the world.  Yoga’s process reveals your Self, your inner source, to you.

Doing poses, reading books and watching videos are a way to put a toe in the water, testing out if you want this inner expansion. To go further, you need a guide, someone who has gone through the process and thus can direct you in the most efficient and effective way. You need a Guru, one who can take you from darkness (gu) to light (ru).

You are at your best when you are aglow with your inner light. You experience light, love and joy and share it with others. This is how you want to live in every moment of every day. When you have the experiential knowing of your That-ness, you recognize everyone is That as well. You see the light shinning in everyone and everything, already there.  You experience life and everyone in it in a whole new way.

A disciple once asked Swami Muktananda , Who are you?”  Baba replied, “Certainly, I can say one thing: I am that which people call That.” (From the Finite to the Infinite)

This is not new. This teaching has been passed down through the ages; it is the essence of our yogic tradition. Generation by generation, teacher passed it to disciple, repeating the cycle since the beginning of time. My teacher is guiding me along the path to knowing I am That. In the beginning, I got glimpses. Now I am becoming more and more established in my own source, my Divine essence. I am the light that fills me and flows into the world.

Remember:  “You are that light that presence that beingness. You are that which the ancient yogis called That.”

Let It Shine, Let It Shine!

Traditional Tales:  Shiva’s Guru

by Nirooshitha:Sethuram

It was a beautiful day on Mt.  Kailasa, where Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati were spending time together with their two children, Ganesha and Skanda.  The two children went off to play in the foothills of the mountain while Shiva and Parvati were giving blessings to devotees.

On that day Lord Brahma, the Creator-God, decided to visit Mt.  Kailasa to worship Shiva.  On his way, he saw Skanda at the foothills of Mt.  Kailasa, but ignored him, and went past him without paying his respects.  Lord Skanda got angry and, mischievous as he was, wanted to bring Brahma out of his egoism.

He patiently waited until Brahma returned from worshipping Shiva, heading back to Satya Loka where he resides with his wife Goddess Saraswati.  When he passed Skanda, ignoring him again, thinking that he is just a child, the little boy Skanda ran to Brahma, asking who he was, what he does, and what he is proficient in?

Brahma replied that he is Brahma, the creator of the beings of the three worlds and that he is proficient in the Vedas.  He proudly said that he was creating the beings who have knowledge of the Vedas, and started to recite the Rig Veda text, beginning with the pranava (the primordial sound “OM”),

Immediately Skanda interrupted Brahma, and asked him to explain the meaning of the pranava.  Brahma couldn’t explain the meaning.  Skanda said, “Without knowing the meaning of the first word you use to do your job, you are incompetent to create the beings!”  He knocked Brahma on his forehead with his knuckles, and imprisoned him in Skanda Giri.  Skanda took up the role of Creator and continued with the creation.

The Devas (Divine Beings) were worried and surprised by the absence of Brahma.  They went to Lord Vishnu complaining that his son, Brahma was missing, asking for Vishnu to help them find him.  Vishnu, the Protector-God , came to know what had happened. He wanted to leave it to Shiva to attend to this matter, since Vishnu couldn’t win the argument with Skanda.  Vishnu, with the other Devas, went to Shiva and explained the situation.

Shiva decided to deal with this himself and went down to see his beloved son, little Skanda.  He with all three of his eyes stood watching Skanda play.  Then he went near his little boy with affection, embraced him and requested him to release Brahma.  Honoring his father’s request, Skanda released Brahma immediately.  Shiva was pleased by his son’s obedience and sat him on his lap.

Then, Shiva asked, “Do you know the meaning of the pranava?”  Being the son of the Supreme Being, Skanda smiled.  He mischievously replied that he does but will only tell the meaning if Shiva was prepared to learn the mantra in a proper manner, as a shishya (disciple) learning it from a Guru.

Agreeing to Skanda’s conditions, giving the proper respect to a Guru by a disciple, Shiva knelt with folded hands and bowed head, before his young son Skanda, the Guru, with great veneration and learnt the mantra from him.  Then Shiva blessed his son, giving him the name Swaminatha, meaning “Guru to the Guru himself.” Brahma went back to his duties, never to ignore anyone again, no matter how young they were.

The hillock on which this took place thus came to be known as “Swamimalai.” Today, thousands of devotees yet go to this holy place, seeking “True Knowledge” from Swaminatha.

Through this act of giving the proper respect to Skanda, Shiva, wanted to show the importance of the Guru.  He also wanted to show that we should never disrespect anyone however young, small or insignificant you may think they are.

Om Namah Shivaya.


Mystical Meaning

By Swami Nirmalananda

Devas, Gods and Goddesses, oh my!   Is the Creator-God really different from the Protector-God?  And who is Shiva anyway?

Mythology activates a part of your brain that nothing else touches, which is why superheroes are so popular.  I read Ovid’s Metamorphosis to my children, followed by the rich and meaningful tales from ancient India.  But the Western-trained mind asks, “Just how many Gods are there?”

The answer is simple.  One.

Though called by different names in different languages, different times, traditions and religions, the One is still the One.  Just like water, agua and pani all refer to the same liquid, each name points to something beyond the word being used.

You probably have many names, from a childhood nickname, relationship names like “Sis” or “Mom,” screen names, a professional name, pet names used by those closest to you, and maybe even a Sanskrit name to invoke your deepest sense of spirituality.  Each name brings forth a different quality from you, while you are more.

In India, the One Reality is called by different names when performing different functions.  When creating, the One is called Brahma, expressing qualities that makes creating possible:  innovative, focused on the moment instead of the future, and with quick-trigger reflexes.  Yoga’s sages described Brahma, even seeing him in Divine visions, thus making us able to depict him in paintings, statues and stories.


Vishnu is the name of the One Reality while nurturing and protecting that which Brahma created.  And the Goddesses are the energies that they use in their various tasks.  Since we’re talking about the One Divine Reality, how many functions are possible?  Thus, how many names are possible?  Millions!  But they are all forms of the One.  The Sanskrit word, “deva,” is the root word for the English word, “divine.”  Devas are Gods, Devis are Goddesses, each of which is the One Reality in a different guise.

This glorious multiplicity is not limited to the celestial sphere, for the One has become everything that exists, including you and me.  The goal of yoga is to know yourself as the Divinity you are, thus being able to see the One shining as all.  Yogis usually name the One as Shiva, which is technically “Paramashiva,” meaning the One who is beyond your idea of who the One is.

Skanda on Shiva’s lap –

In this story, the many forms of the One play out a drama complete with insult, confrontation, imprisonment, a “presidential pardon,” all superimposed on against a mystical background of the ever-reverberating primordial sound.  Then sweetest of all, the great Shiva takes on the role of a humble student, learning from his own son, Skanda, while knowing that Skanda got everything from Shiva himself.

Nirooshitha says that she chose this story because it’s all about the Guru principle.  “This story is from Skanda Purana, as is Shree Guru Gita.  This is one of the stories, which I was told and read many times while growing up. For me this story is about Shiva being himself and being his own son.”

It’s really a picture of your own condition.  While you are currently experiencing the limitation of human individuality, you are more.  To find the more, you go to one who knows, one who serves by sharing that knowing with you – the Guru.  While bowing to the Guru, you’re bowing to your Self, one really you but simply in another form.  It’s all done with mirrors!

OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah

The Perfect

By Yogeshwari (Melissa) Fountain

You are a Divine incarnation with the capacity to access the infinite within you.  Yoga describes that the vastness of Consciousness chooses to manifest, through many levels of contraction, to become matter.  From the formless to the form, all is made of the One.  Everything is Consciousness!

“Yoga promises you that you will know yourself to the deepest and fullest extent, recognizing your own Divinity and seeing it in everyone and everything else.” — Swami Nirmalananda

The point of yoga’s practices is that you know and experience this within yourself.  This is easy when you are emerging from a deep meditation or at the end of a yoga class.  Your quiet mind makes you able to experience peace.  You’ve found an entry into the infinite within, which is called “svaroopa,” your own Divine Essence.

Yet most of the time, you’re not experiencing yourself as Divine.  While the infinite reality is concealed in every object, you can’t see the it because you’re trapped in your preferences.  If you like how something is going, it’s yoga; if not, it can’t possibly be yoga.  A yoga student returned home one day to see her kitchen flooded.  She stood there and made a decision: “I guess this is my yoga for the day”.  She rolled up her sleeves, opened her heart, got to work, and was in a state of bliss throughout the clean-up.

Not everything goes your way.  Not everyone one is interested in yoga or inner peace.  Swamiji says, “If you’re looking for the world and the people around you to show you their Divinity, you’re going to have a long wait.”  The only way you can find the Divinity that pervades all of existence is by looking inward.   You must find God in yourself first.

I learned a beautiful Sanskrit verse in yoga teacher training which begins with:

OM poornamadah pooornamidam…

OM. That is perfect. This is perfect.


“That” is your Divine Beingness, already perfect and full.  “This” is everyone and everything in this world, already perfect and full.  If you had told me B.Y. (before yoga) that “everything is perfect, the perfect becoming the perfect,” I’d have thought you were crazy.  For I was a master of the “yes…buts.”  A lifelong skeptic, I was trying to make the world fit into my expectations.  To me, “the perfect” meant perfectionism.  If I perfected the poses, if I was the perfect wife and mother, even the perfect yogi, then my life would fall into place.  These delusions captivated me for years!  When I chanted that mantra, it felt like a promise of things to come.  Deep inside, somehow I knew I was more than my mind was telling me.

In order to behold the perfect in everything, you must first find it within.  You’ve already proved to yourself that figuring things out doesn’t make you enlightened.  You cannot really enlighten yourself.  Only One who knows the Self can reveal your inherent Divinity to you.

Swami Nirmalananda describes it this way, “I was so fortunate to find such a One.  I didn’t know that I was looking for my Self.  I didn’t know that my mind was what was in the way.  My Guru showed me what I was looking for and how to get deeper in, past my mind.  I live in undying gratitude to Him, and delight in serving others who want the same.”

Even though this world is chaotic and unpredictable, it is the form of formless Consciousness.  Everything coming at you is another form of the Divine.  Everything!  Your mind doesn’t have to understand.  Why?  Because you are more than your mind.  How do you find your Self?

  • Pause in the midst of your activities.  Take a breath.  Even sigh!
  • Offer whatever you are doing to your own Divine Self, the One who is being you while being all.

In this way, you will begin to explore yoga’s promise: to know your Self to the deepest and fullest extent.

OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah

Life’s Choices

By Mati (Sandra) Gilbert

Choices!  You make many choices each day, some easy and some hard.  When I was younger, I had to decide between change and security.  A single mom with an 8 year-old son, I had just purchased a home.  My job was very secure but I had advanced as far as I could.  Though I was good at it and it was easy for me, I was no longer satisfied with the status quo.  An opportunity came along.  There was a path for advancement but it did not offer any degree of security.  Was I willing to take a chance?  Decision time!

Family, job, projects, and other areas of your life bring you to the brink sometimes.  Life is not always easy.  If you continue to choose the easy path, looking for events and situations to flow easily, you are at the mercy of events and the people who cause them.  No matter how much effort you put into setting up your life perfectly, there will always be something beyond your control.  It often changes the outcome you had planned.  The only thing you have any control over is how you are during life’s challenges.  How are you?

“There are easy parts to life, but hard parts come along in spite of your efforts to avoid them.  Yoga says you must tackle the hard stuff, not merely handle the tough stuff when it comes up, but to look for the challenges and even create them for yourself.  This is called tapas.”                                                                                                                                 — Swami Nirmalananda

Tapas is doing the hard stuff even though it is hard.  Tapas is choosing to challenge yourself by doing hard stuff, precisely because it is hard.  When you get good at it, it is no longer hard for you, and it is no longer tapas.  Doing tapas means you get to choose the challenges you are going to work on, rather than having other thrust them on you.

Swamiji describes a 4-step process to help you make tough decisions.  The steps are

  1. Take an intelligent look at yourself
  2. Discern what would be the next step
  3. Decide to do it
  4. Then do it

While this process is straightforward, your choice should be based on what is best, not what you desire most.  This is a pure choice, without expecting a specific outcome.  In other words, you see what is needed and you just do it.

Tapas is very important.  When you decide to do the hard stuff without neediness or discontent, your body and your senses are purified and improved.  You gain a new understanding of your life and the world around you.  The benefits you get from doing tapas greatly exceeds the effort you expended.

Because of the teachings of my Guru, Swami Nirmalananda, and the Grace that flows through her, I am on the path to knowing my inner divinity — my Self.  Therefore, the hard stuff does not throw me like it used to.  Whether something is hard or easy is not the deciding factor in what I decide to do.  I can and must choose where to pour my energy.  Sometimes it is easy, flowing along almost effortlessly.  Sometimes it is hard, requiring work to accomplish the tiniest little bit of progress.

In yoga, the determining factor in what you are doing is not based on how easy or hard it is — it is based on who you are while you are doing it.  Through the practice of tapas, your own Self shines through your mind, your heart, your relationships, your work, and your life.  Your life will continue to have challenges.  However, it is much easier once you know your Self — your own inherent Divinity.

Stand Here, Now!

By Yogeshwari Fountain

You can travel the world to visit holy sites.  Many of my friends have shared profound experiences of touching the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, gazing up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or walking the 500-mile El Camino trail through Spain.  My husband hiked down into the Grand Canyon this summer and felt he’d never be the same again.

Expansive, spiritual settings expand us back into the Self, the vastness of our own inner Being.  Yet Yoga says that the most sacred site of all is your own body, here in the present moment, in each breath you take, and on the very ground upon which you now stand.

“The spot where you now stand is sacred ground.  You, standing on it, and your body with which you stand are both sacred.  There is nowhere that God is not.”  — Swami Nirmalananda (formerly Rama Berch),

Tadasana teaches you how to stand firmly, with precise alignment and total ease.  While often-called “Mountain Pose,” it is more importantly the “pose of That” (the Supreme Reality).  Being grounded in your body is more than a physical feeling of strength and stamina, but a quality of quiet mind and surrender.

We are accustomed to looking outside ourselves for the holy.  Yet, whenever I stop what I am doing and allow myself to feel that shift back inside my body, I feel more my “Self.”  Standing in stillness opens up your breath, and releases your spinal tension.  Your eyes become clear and you gain a new perspective.

Consider the power of standing still.  Not rushing off to the next thing you have to do.  Not squirming in discomfort, or checking your smart phone.  Not worrying about your next move.   Instead, settle into an upright stillness that is both internally quiet and immovable.  You might even feel gravity’s gentle pull through your muscles and bones, while you feel taller and lighter.  It’s amazing!  A seven-year named Zachery once described this to me as, “I know what God is!  God is gravity!”

It’s true that standing in my bones connects me to God’s presence within me, as me.  By standing still, you trust that where you are, right now, is just where you are supposed to be, and can let go.

This is a radically different view of the world: there is nothing you have to attain, no one you have to be, for everything is already perfect, already Divine.  The ultimate Reality that pervades all of existence, Shiva, is being every thought, every breath and every experience you are having.  The mundane and the divine are inextricably interwoven.  This is called Tantric living, and it comes from Kashmiri Shaivism, the yoga philosophy I practice.  It has taken me years to slow down, to stand still, to become more aware.  But as I continue to surrender to meditation and my Guru’s Grace, the easier it becomes.

Later this year, I am going on pilgrimage to Ganeshpuri, India, a sleepy little village that is the home of my Guru’s lineage.  I’ve been there before.  I already know that every inch of soil beneath my feet will feel sacred to me.  Everywhere I’ll look I’ll see the face of God.

Yet as special as this is, I don’t have to go to India to find it.  I know the temple is within me.  Right here and now, the ground I am standing upon is sacred; as is the body I live in.   Perhaps you too have a special place of pilgrimage, one that will reliably make you feel quiet inside and filled with grace.  You need look no further: stand here, now.

Traditional Tales and Mystical Meanings

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

The mythic dimension of our lives is a doorway to the mystical dimension of our beings.  Today we welcome a new writer to our blog team, a yogi who grew up with these stories in her native Sri Lanka.  The classical Hindu tales always offer a yogic teaching, which I will draw out in each blog, both to warm your heart as well as to expand your understanding.

Nirooshitha Sethuram is a Svaroopa® yoga teacher in America, bringing both western and Hindu perspectives to our profound yogic tradition.  She explains, “The Mango Story is the first story that most Hindu children hear from their parents.  Very simple, yet very rich in its essence.”


The Mango Story

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

It was another beautiful day on Mt.  Kailash, where Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati were with their two children, Ganesha and Karttikeya.

On this day Sage Narada was visiting.  Narada is the son of Brahma, the creator, also known to be the creator of problems which end in goodness to the world.  Narada brought a special mango in his hand, claiming he had come to pay respects to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, but they knew that it was not the case.  He was there to start some mischief.  They were right; he had come to test the two children, Ganesha and Karttikeya.

Sage Narada offered the special mango to Lord Shiva, saying it was a very special mango, sweeter than the nectar of any fruit there was.  Narada also said it was to be eaten by one person only and should not be shared.  With a smile, Lord Shiva asked, “Have you started to execute your mischief yet?”  Then Shiva said, “I can’t eat it, as I share everything with Parvati,” so He offered it to Parvati.  Parvati said that She can’t have it either, as She also shares everything with Lord Shiva.

Sage Narada pretended to be sad because they rejected what he offered, though he was happy that his plan was working.  He says, “Oh my Lord, please, one of you in your family should eat it!  Maybe it can be one of your children.”  Knowing what was happening, Lord Shiva called for his sons, Ganesha and Karttikeya.

Shiva said, “I have a mango which cannot be shared, so one of you can have it.”  Both Ganesha and Karttikeya said, “I want it, I want it…”  Sage Narada, pretending to be shocked, said, “I had no idea that the children will fight for it.”  Lord Shiva smiled and said to Narada in a low voice that only he can hear, “You purposely brought this mango, knowing this would happen…” Goddess Parvati continued, “Yes, I agree, but we need to resolve this now.”

Lord Shiva said, “My dear children, this is the time in your life in which you must face the world.  Unless you know your world, you cannot lead your life in prosperity.  Both of you must travel around the world three times.  The first one to return will get the mango.”  Narada was extremely happy that his plan was being executed.

Karttikeya was a beautiful strong boy born to defeat demons, whereas Ganesha had the head of an elephant, with a potbelly and short stubby legs.  Kartikeya’s vehicle was a peacock and Ganesh’s vehicle was a mouse.  Karttikeya was thinking his brother didn’t have a chance, so without a word he jumped on his peacock and off he went.  With great determination Karttikeya flew around the world.  Along the way, he faced terrible storms, fought with demons and helped people in danger.  His journey was much more difficult than he thought.  His thoughts went back to his brother, “Oh, my poor brother.  How is he going to survive all this while competing for the mango?”

Ganesha knew he will not be able to win the race on his mouse and started thinking.  Then an idea struck him.  He said, “My parents, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, are my world, therefore I will go around them thrice.”  Ganesha fastened a tiny harness around Mushika, his mouse.  He went thrice around his parents and was just receiving the mango from Goddess Parvati when Karttikeya returned after circling the world thrice.

Karttikeya saw Ganesha holding the mango in his hand.  He was so angry!  He said that Ganesha had done nothing while he traveled around the world.  “So have I,” replied Ganesh.  He said, “I traveled all around my father and mother.  They are my world.”

Karttikeya knew what had happened, and though he knew his brother won it fair and square, he still got angry with his parents.  Seeing this, Ganesha offered the mango to Karttikeya.  But Karttikeya flew away on his peacock, leaving all his luxuries, including all his clothes.  He went to a hill known as “Palani” in the south of India (palani = palam + nee in the Tamil language, meaning, “you are the fruit”).

Goddess Parvati came right behind Karttikeya to bring him back to Kailash.  When She arrived, She said to him, “You both have won in your own ways.  Karttikeya, you won by your single-minded determination and endurance, while your brother Ganesha won by balance of heart, mind, love and intellect.”  Hearing this from his beloved mother, Karttikeya was satisfied and lifted out of his anger.  He became calm and happily went back to Kailash with his mother.  He apologized to his father, Lord Shiva, and to his brother Ganesh, for his earlier behavior.

Lord Shiva, through Sage Narada’s drama, wanted to show everyone that their parents are their first world.  He also wanted to show that you could gather knowledge and answers by traveling the world as Karttikeya did, or stay in the same place looking inward to get them as Ganesha did.  Om Namah Shivaya.


Mystical Meanings

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

My Guru told us this story many times, but with one small alteration.  Ganesha decided to circle his parents three times because they are the source and container of all the worlds.  Shiva is the primordial reality, who has taken form within this universe, sitting on Mt. Kailasa so that He is in the world that He has created.  He is not merely an observer; He is a participant-observer.  That makes Him available to us!

Shree Parvati is a human girl who became a Goddess, specifically for the purpose of marrying Shiva.  She had a head start, of course, for She was an incarnation of the primordial energy, Shakti, drawn into human birth by the pleas of humankind.  Her intense practices transformed her into a Goddess, which She already was, as are you.  But you need to do some work on yourself before you discover your inherent Divinity.

Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati sit on Mt. Kailasa, both in the world and beyond the world.  They are the substance and energy of which the world is made, which means the world is within them, while they are within it.  Ganesha used this mystical truth to win the race, and his boon was not only a mango, but that he would be invoked at the beginning of every ceremony and every venture.  It is Ganesha that opens the doorway to the celestial and cosmic realms, so every puja (classical ceremony) begins with worship of Ganesha .

This mystical truth is true of you as well, you are in the universe, but the universe is within you.  When you look outside, you can see only part of the universe, plus you get ensnared in it,  When you look inside, you see the whole, which is the universe and the One who has become it, who is Shiva, who is you.