“I want this. I need that. I don’t want this. I don’t want that.”
Want, want, want. Need, need, need. Your mind churns over your desires. Again and again, it reviews what or where or how you are lacking. It’s exhausting both mentally and physically. And worst of all, you too often live your life based on an assumption of “not enough.”
What if you lived your life based on the assumption of enough or — better yet —abundance? The reality is that you are likely amongst the more fortunate in this world. You have Internet, you are literate and you have your basic needs met. This gives you the opportunity to focus on your spirituality. What if you saw the abundance in your life and wanted what you have?
There are many well-known gratitude practices to cultivate a different mindset. You can have a gratitude journal or jar. Our Ashram Staff meetings end with a gratitude moment. Each person shares what they are grateful for. These psychological practices can be powerful for changing your mind’s perspective.
Yet yoga approaches it differently. While psychology changes the content of your mind, yoga targets the source of the problem. Yoga looks at why your mind is thinking those thoughts. You want things because you feel incomplete, empty, not enough and/or alone. Yoga cures this feeling.
How? By revealing to you the fullness and completeness of who you truly are. When you feel like you are lacking something, you are not experiencing your true Essence. When you are being your true Essence, you know and experience that you are full and complete.
Yoga practices are designed to reveal to you the fullness that you are. Over time, the yogic process that you go through fills you up from the inside. You know this from your yoga practices already. You do poses or breathing practices and then feel calmer, more satisfied and at ease.
This is because you are experiencing your fullness on the inside. You learn to live in that fullness all the time. Then you see this same Essence being everyone and everything around you. Living in the fullness of your Essence, you don’t need anything on the outside. You don’t want or need anything to make you feel full.
Your mind becomes free from all desires, for externals and for things promised in the scriptures, giving a state of complete freedom and ease.
When you don’t want things, you gain great freedom. Your mind no longer churns over your desires. This frees up a tremendous amount of mental energy. With your thoughts changed, your words and actions also change. Instead of being a slave to your desires, you are free.
This freedom also includes the freedom to give more, love more and do more. With actions, thoughts and words motivated by getting something, you are limited by what you can do. You are limited by your focus on what you can get. When you are full, you are looking at what to give. Your capacity grows. You have great freedom. It’s the best way to live.
My favorite way to experience the truth of these teachings is by repeating mantra. So many times, I’ve turned to mantra when I have been caught up in my desires. I repeat mantra. Sometimes, it’s for just a few minutes. Sometimes it takes longer. And, without fail, the mantra fills me up from the inside. The mantra reveals my Self to me.
The fullness of my Self leaves no room for desire. Then the same external circumstances look completely different to me. Being full on the inside, my heart overflows. I am looking at what I can give. I care and I want to help. When you fill up from the inside, then you love more as well as care more. You are fully and effectively engaged in the world.
In the sutra above, the Sanskrit word vairaagyam is often translated as non-attachment or dispassion. This can lead to a misconception that you must distance yourself from the world. But it’s the opposite really. Filled up with knowing your own Self, you are freed from neediness and desires. An abundance of love and caring fills you. You stay engaged in the world so you can give from this abundance.
The Pandavas were travelling to holy places in the forest accompanied by Sage Lomasa. They came to a hermitage where Uddaalaka lived, a great sage and teacher of Vedanta. Lomasa told Yudhishthira and the Pandavas the story of that place.
Sage Uddaalaka, who is mentioned many times in the Upanishads, had a disciple named Kahola. Kahola was virtuous but not so knowledgeable. Uddaalaka appreciated his disciple’s virtues, devotion and manners, and gave his daughter Sujata in marriage to him.
The couple was blessed with a child who inherited the characteristics of his grandfather. It is said that he had learned the Vedas while he was in his mother’s womb. Every time his father made mistakes while reciting the Vedas, the child in the womb twisted his body in pain. As a result, the child was born with eight crooked twists in his body. Due to that, the child was known as Ashtavakra, meaning eight deformities.
Kahola met his end by drowning in the sea, by getting defeated in a debate on the scriptures with Vandi, a court scholar of Mithila. So Ashtavakra pretty much grew up under the guidance of his mother. Yet he became a scholar in Vedas and Vedanta when he was just twelve.
One day Ashtavakra came to know about a King Janaka of Mithila, who was holding great yaj~na and debates on the scriptures by scholars. Accompanied by his uncle Svetaketu, Ashtavakra set out to Mithila to attend the yaj~na and debates.
On their way, they came across the king himself with his entourage. The guards were shouting ahead asking people to move away to make way for the king. Hearing and seeing this, Ashtavakra intervened. Stepping forward, he spoke to the guards in a manner that caught the King’s attention. He said that a righteous man, even if he is a king, must make way for the blind, deformed, women, people carrying loads, great beings, and those learned in the Vedas, reminding them that this is instructed in the scriptures.
Astonished by the words of this young wise child, the king accepted the truth in his words and made way for them. When Ashtavakra and Svetaketu were trying to enter the yaj~na hall, they were stopped again by the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers said only wise men learned in the Vedas are allowed into the hall. Ashtavakra politely pointed out that they should not judge anyone by age or appearance. And assured that they both have observed the necessary vows and have learnt the Vedas sufficiently.
The gatekeepers refused to believe how a mere boy could have learned the Vedas and was come to debate with renowned Vedic scholars. They decided that Ashtavakra was simply bragging about himself to enter the court. Ashtavakra insisted that looks is no indication of knowledge or worth, nor is age. And he reminded the guards that those who have understood the truths of the Vedanta will not judge another on mere considerations such as age or appearance. He also emphasized that grey hair does not prove the maturity of the soul. The mature man is the one who has learnt the Vedas and mastered their substance and realized their essence.
As this commotion was going on at the gate, the king himself happened to come there. He easily recognized Ashtavakra, the wise boy whom he had met before. King Janaka asked, “Do you know that my court scholar Vandi has defeated many great scholars in the past and caused them to be cast into the ocean? Would that not discourage you?”
Ashtavakra confidently said, “Your renowned scholar Vandi has not yet met someone like me who is an expert in the Vedas and Vedanta. Vandi has become arrogant with easy victories over decent men who were not real scholars. I have come here to repay the debt on the account of my father, who was defeated by Vandi and made to drown.”
Saying this, he requested the king to summon Vandi. The king invited Ashtavakra into the debate hall and summoned Vandi for a debate. Ashtavakra and Vandi debated for a while, each devoting their utmost learning and wits to amaze the other.
At the end, the court unanimously declared the victory of Ashtavakra. Vandi accepted his defeat by drowning himself in the ocean. It is said that the soul of Kahola gained peace and joy in the glory of his son.
Completing this story Sage Lomasa gave the teaching on the subject, quoting Kahola, “A son not necessarily should be like his father. A father who is weak may have a strong son and an ignorant father may have a scholarly son. It is wrong to access the greatness of a person by the person’s physical appearance or age. External appearances are deceptive.”
During their time in the forest, Yudhishthira, along with his brothers, heard other stories from various other sages.
Sage Markandeya, to emphasize the importance of controlling oneself and duty, told the story of Kaushika, an ascetic who observed the vow of celibacy. However, Kaushika had anger management issues.
One day, while sitting under a tree and reciting the Vedas, a crane’s dropping fell on Kaushika. His reciting of the Vedas was disturbed by this, so he looked up angrily at the bird and the poor bird died. Kaushika felt so bad and regretted that a sinful thought passing through in his mind in that moment of anger had killed an innocent bird. Yet his anger remained as an issue.
Another day he went to beg for alms from a household. The lady of the house was serving her husband at that time, therefore was delayed in attending to him. Kaushika got angry and looked at her with fiery eyes. The lady calmly apologized for being late, and politely asked him to control his anger. She said, “I am not a crane, to be affected by your anger, as I was merely doing my duty towards my husband. That’s my dharma.”
Kaushika was taken by this, as he wondered how she knew about the crane. She told Kaushika that anger is the worst enemy that lives in all, and that he was not aware of that. She then asked him to forgive her for the delay. She also requested him to visit Dharmavyadha of Mithila to learn to live one’s life dutifully.
Astonished by her words Kaushika blessed her and went in search for Dharmavyadha, thinking that he is a great being living in a hermitage far from the city. After searching for him in ashramas and holy places, Kaushika was dumfounded to find him in a butcher’s stall. Kaushika was disgusted by the fact that Dharmavyadha was a butcher, so Kaushika was reluctant to even go close to him.
But Dharmavyadha came running to him and paid his respect and took Kaushika to his home. There Kaushika witnessed Dharmavyadha, after all his hard work at the shop, serving his parents and family dutifully with all his heart. Seeing this Kaushika, learned about duty and dharma, and returned home to take care of his neglected parents, a dharma which he had forgotten to fulfill.
The teaching from this story is that the occupation may be one a person is born to perform in society, or forced on to him by circumstances or taken up by choice, but what really matters is the attitude of sincerity and faithfulness with which the person does the life’s work with compassion.
Later one day, Yudhishthira asked Sage Markandeya, whether there had ever been a woman who was devoted to her husband as much as Draupadi. The sage recited the following story.
King of Madra, Ashwapati prayed to the Sun God, wishing to have a son. He was blessed with a daughter whom he named Savitri, honoring the deity. Savitri’s beauty was unmatched. That intimidated all the men, so no one dared to ask for her hand. Thus her father, the king, asked her to find a suitable groom on her own.
The princess was sent out on a journey with the chosen best warriors to protect her. She went around the land to find a suitable husband. In the forest, she found a handsome young prince, Satyavan, the son of a blind king, Dyumatsena.
Dyumatsena had been exiled by his enemy and was living as a forest dweller. Satyavan was taking care of his blind father and mother. To take care of them he chopped and sold wood. With the humble income they got, they lived a happy life. Savitri was strongly drawn towards them and fell in love with the young prince.
As her search ended with finding Satyavan, she returned to her father. Sage Narada was visiting the king and alarmed the king that Savitri had made a mistake by choosing Satyavan, for Satyavan destined to die in a year. That didn’t change Savitri’s decision as she was determined to marry Satyavan.
Your own Self is the One Divine Reality, the source and substance of everything that exists.
When you know your own Self, you feel blissful, whole, and complete. But you probably don’t experience the bliss of your Self as often as you would like to. My Guru, Gurudevi Nirmalananda, explains how you can:
Your own Self is always there, always right here, inside. All you have to do is look deeper. The mantra gives you this ability.
With Svaroopa® Vidya meditation, you repeat mantra, and it takes you deeper. It takes you beyond your mind, to the glorious depths of your Self. Beyond your mind?
I didn’t understand how this was possible when I first began to meditate. I’d had tantalizing experiences of my Self, from the start. They were blissful glimpses. But it didn’t make sense to me that I was going beyond my mind. After all, your mind is how you know and understand things, both in the world, and in your own body, mind and heart. And you use your mind to repeat the mantra in meditation.
This is all true. Your mind is important. It is valuable. But it is puny compared to your own Self. Your Self is so much greater than your mind, that your mind can’t hold the whole of your Self. A classic example is a bucket of water under a full moon.
Imagine a clear night sky. The moon is big and full, a luminous ball glowing in the dark. You fill a bucket with water and set it on the ground outside. When you peek in the bucket, you’ll see the reflection of the moon. The whole circle of the moon is glowing on the surface of the water.
But is the bucket holding the whole moon? Could you take your bucket full of moon, spirit it away, and the moon will be gone from the sky? No, the bucket is too small to hold the whole moon. It can only reflect it.
Your mind is like the bucket of water. It can only reflect your Self. The reflection is valid and real, but it’s not the whole. The whole of your Self is much more.
You are not just someone with a bucket full of moon. You are the bucket, the ground beneath you, and the moon and sky above you. You are the whole of the earth. You are the whole of the universe, while being you. You are the One Reality that created this whole universe, is being this universe, and is beyond this universe. That is your Self.
Because you are the Self, you have the capacity to know you are the Self. That knowing is deeper than your mind. But you need help to get to that knowing because it has been hidden from you. That’s why you don’t experience the bliss of your Self all the time. It’s a cosmic set-up.
So you need help from someone who knows. Someone who can point the way. Someone who has the key to unlock your deeper knowing. Someone like Gurudevi. She is a yoga master, in a lineage of yoga masters called Gurus. She has dedicated her life to your upliftment.
You can trust her when she says, “Your own Self is always there, always right here, inside. All you have to do is look deeper.” Except, you don’t have to trust her. That’s because she gives you what you need so you can know for yourself, as she explains, “The mantra gives you this ability.”
The mantra is the key that unlocks your not-knowing. She gives it freely to everyone who asks for it. It is the mantra of Gurudevi’s lineage. The Gurus have enlivened the mantra with the energy of revelation.
This is the cosmic power that reveals your Self to you. Repeating this enlivened mantra propels you beyond your mind. You dive into the depths and infinite expansiveness of your Self.
In the beginning, I didn’t understand how this could be true. But now I know that it is. You can know, too. You are already whole. More than whole, you are holy. Here, now.
And you find your wholeness, you find your holiness, by meditating with the lineage mantra. If you want the mantra, ask Gurudevi. She will give it to you.
Sage Lomasa and the Pandavas reached the hermitage of Sage Raibhya on the banks of the Ganga. Sage Lomasa told them about the sanctity of this holy place. Then he started to recite the story of two sages, Bharadvaja and Raibhya who were dear friends.
Raibhya had two sons named Paravasu and Arvavasu. They became scholars in Vedas just like their father and were respected by all, along with their father. This made Bharadvaja’s only son, Yavakrida jealous. He wished to gain knowledge of the scriptures quickly without seeking a teacher.
Instead of learning for years, he chose a shortcut — to please Indra, the Lord of the Devas, asking him for direct knowledge of the Vedas. So he did intense penance and austerities to achieve this.
Indra appeared in front of him and advised that austerities are not the way to gain knowledge. The path to acquire knowledge is to study the scriptures under the guidance of a teacher.
Yavakrida, however, didn’t yield. He refused to take Indra’s advice, went on and pursued more austerities, with even greater means, to please Indra. Indra appeared again and warned him that the path he was taking to seek knowledge was not the right path, saying that one can acquire knowledge only by studying. He then reminded Yavakrida that his own father Bharadvaja gained knowledge by studying patiently. Yavakrida refused to accept this answer again and threatened to cut off his own limbs and offer them to the sacred fire. He wouldn’t give up on his penance.
Continuing his severe penance, one day when he went for a bath, he saw an old man strenuously throwing handfuls of sand from the bank into the river Ganga. Yavakrida was puzzled by his action and asked what he was trying to accomplish. The old man replied, saying he was building a bridge across the river so people could easily cross.
Yavakrida yelled at him, saying how foolish he was to accomplish his task in this ridiculous manner. The old brahmin said, “It is no crazier than learning the scriptures through austerities instead of studying under a teacher.”
Yavakrida recognized that the old man was none other than Indra himself, and asked for his blessings. Indra at last blessed Yavakrida with knowledge of the Vedas, but with a lot of reluctance. Yavakrida became very proud to have learned Vedas directly from Indra instead of through conventional learning.
After becoming a scholar in the Vedas, Yavakrida grew an attitude. He was thinking that he had acquired the knowledge of the Vedas through the boon of Indra instead of through a human, thus making him special. His father warned him against his pride. But Yavakrida was too proud to listen.
He started to disrespect Raibhya very much. Bharadvaja feared that his son might ruin himself by this attitude, so he decided to advise him by telling him an ancient story.
There once lived a sage named Baladhi. His son’s untimely death plunged him into grief. He decided to do severe penance in order to get a son who would be deathless. He spent years on rigorous penance, needed because he was asking for immortality,. However, he realized that attaining immortality is not possible, so he was motivated to ask for a different boon.
Seeing a mighty mountain in front of him. Baladhi asked for a son with a life that will persist as long as the mountain in front of him lasts. So, the sage was blessed with a son named Medhavi. He grew up with an arrogance, thinking that he was safe from death forever, as he would live as long as the mountain existed.
He angered a great sage by disrespecting him in an unwarranted manner. The angry sage cursed Medhavi that he would turn into ashes, but the curse didn’t work on him. Medhavi remained in perfect health. The sage then realized that Medhavi had protection from the boon that he had received, to live as long as the mountain existed.
So, the sage took the form of a wild buffalo. By the power of his own penance, he crashed the mountain and broke it into pieces. That ended Medhavi’s life. After reciting the story, Bharadvaja concluded, telling his son to learn wisdom from this old story and not to be ruined by pride. Bharadvaja urged Yavakrida to cultivate self-restraint, and not to disobey the limits of good conduct, and to be respectful to the great Sage Raibhya.
One day Paravasu’s wife was alone in the garden of the hermitage of Raibhya. Yavakrida happened to see her. She was so beautiful and attractive that Yavakrida felt an irresistible desire to have her. Totally losing his self-control, overcome by lust, he dragged her to a lonely place and violated her person, committing the most dishonorable sin.
Raibhya came to know about his daughter-in-law. He was enraged about the manner she was disgraced by Yavakrida. He had no words to console his daughter-in-law. With his yogic power from his sacrificial fire, he raised a maiden as beautiful as his own daughter-in-law, along with a terrible demon. He commanded them to kill Yavakrida.
The maiden tempted Yavakrida with her charms while he was performing a ritual. When Yavakrida was distracted, she ran away with his kamandala, the water jug he was using for his rituals. The demon jumped at Yavakrida with a spear in his hand. Terrified, Yavakrida ran after the maiden to recover his kamandala, knowing that his mantras would be powerless until he cleansed himself with water.
Unable to catch her, to save himself from the demon, he rushed to a pond for water but unfortunately the pond was dry. Then he ran to a nearby stream which also dried up as he approached it. There was no water for him anywhere. Together the maiden and the demon accomplished their task. Yavakrida was killed at the entrance to his father’s hermitage.
Bharadvaja was very much distressed about his son’s death. In grief, he cursed his dear friend Raibhya for killing his only son. Regaining control of himself soon after, he yelled, “They alone are blessed who have no sons. I have not only lost my only son, but in the foolishness of my grief, I have also cursed my dear friend. What is the use of continuing my life?” He cremated his son’s body and then threw himself into the same funeral pyre.
After some time, Raibhya’s sons Paravasu and Arvavasu were invited to the palace of King Brihadyumna to perform a great yajňa and sacrifice. While arrangements were being made for the yajňa, Paravasu desired to go and see his wife, walking alone all night. Near the ashram he saw in the twilight something moving, which seemed to him like a wild beast and therefore shot it down with an arrow.
It turned out that Paravasu had killed his own father, Raibhya, who was dressed in tree bark, mistaking him for a wild beast. He realized that the fatal mistake happened as a result of Bharadvaja’s curse. He returned to the yajňa and told his brother Arvavasu what had transpired.
Arvavasu consoled his brother and asked him to continue to perform the yajňa and said that he will go and perform their father’s last rites. He also said that he will do the penance on behalf of his brother freeing him from the terrible sin of killing their father. After finishing his penance on behalf of his brother, Arvavasu returned to the court of the king to join his brother and assist in the yajňa.
Seeing the radiance on his brother’s face, Paravasu became jealous and told everyone that Arvavasu had killed their father. Arvavasu tried to deny his brother’s accusation, but none believed him. Arvavasu was expelled from the yajňa hall by the order of the king. Being not only learned but also virtuous, he retreated to the forest with a heavy heart.
To find justice in the world, in despair, he immersed himself in rigorous penance. Soon the Gods appeared and asked him what boon he sought. Arvavasu asked to free his heart of all anger at his brother’s misconduct and to bring his father to life again. In this way, his brother’s sins would be washed off and he would be freed from his wickedness. The Gods fulfilled all his wishes.
Sage Lomasa thus finished the story, advising the Pandavas to take a bath in the holy river Ganga nearby, to purify themselves. He later emphasized the teaching in the story, “Learning is no protection against vanity or lust. A wise man should never lose his self-control. Many acquire knowledge and fame, only to lose self-control. They fall prey to lust and ruin themselves.”
He continued saying, “Learning is one thing and virtue is quite another. It is true that one should know the difference between good and evil, if one is to seek good and shun evil. But this knowledge should soak into every thought and influence every action in one’s life. Then indeed knowledge becomes virtue. The knowledge that is undigested information, merely crammed into the mind, cannot instill virtue. It is just an outward show, like our clothes and it is not really part of us.”
Bittersweet chocolate is the best. The sage Narada agrees, describing the yearning for God as the most painful and most blissful of the 11 types of Divine Love.
Today, I honor my Guru on the anniversary of his departure from this earthly plane. It is a day of great grief and a day of great gratitude – both of which are based in Divine love.
Grief is when you feel you’ve lost something important to you. Yet the fact that it was important means you are grateful for what it gave. Thus, grief is the flip side of gratitude.
Wonderfully, this gives you a pathway out of grief — simply express your gratitude. When you put words to all you’ve received from that source, you are filled up inside and there’s no room left for grief.
I was in Spain when Baba left. At the pivotal time in India, it was sunset where I was, on private retreat in a small town overlooking the Mediterranean. That sunset lasted longer than any I’ve ever seen, with colors ranging from golden orange into deep purple.
As I sat and watched it, Baba spoke to me inside. For a long time. Mostly it was wordless communion, but sometimes a few words would come – deeply loving while giving me direction for my life.
He was my sunset. He was my sunrise. He was the sun that lit up my whole world, even my inner universe. Or I thought he was. As long as he was in his body, I could see only Baba. He took up the radar screen of my mind in an ecstatic and glorious way. It was a whole lot better than anything else I’d had on my radar.
It was only after he was gone (seemingly gone) that I could look past my mind and discover what he had given me. He gave me my own Self, the vast profundity and inner reality of Beingness being me. But frankly, I’d rather look at him than look at me.
That’s bhakti yoga, the science of Divine Love. Tukaram, a poet saint of India said it this way, “Please, please, dear God. Keep me just a little separate from you, so there’s still a ‘me’ to love you.” Yes, I love to love Baba. Which is why I indulge myself in sweet moments of Divine Grief – so I can feel the love, the longing, the yearning, while I know I am the One who was He.
There is only One Reality, the ultimate, ever-existent, present-right-here-and now Beingness. Called by many names, our tradition honors the One by the name Shiva, meaning the Auspicious One who plants his auspiciousness in all.
But it’s not like planting a seed in earth, with the seed being different from the earth. Instead, Shiva plants himself in you by being you. Shiva is being you while being me, while being all and beyond all. Oh, Shiva!
So when I look for Baba, I find him inside. I love to look at his photos, but it is always he who is looking through my eyes. I masquerade as a bhakta, lost in love of the Divine, while being the One who is being both the lover and the beloved. There’s no better way to live, always lost in Divine Love, yet knowing that it is me loving me – even when I am loving you.
Jai Muktananda! Hail to Muktananda! As he said about himself, I also proclaim to the world – I don’t care what anyone says about my Baba. He gave me everything.
And he sends me to share it with you. Does anyone want some bittersweet chocolate? We can laugh and cry together. It’s a glorious way to live!
My birthday is this week. A day to celebrate life. I’ve been contemplating this, starting with my body. It has changed quite a bit since I was born. It has grown as I have grown. It has learned as I have learned.
My body has served me very well, but I haven’t always served it well. Yet I need my body to live my life. My quality of life is directly affected by the care I give it. Just like a car, the better you care for it, the longer it will last and the better condition it will be in.
I have to admit, pre-yoga I was not very good at caring for my body. I pushed it to the max and beyond, many times. Even after finding yoga, I’ve been known to do this. Yet Svaroopa® yoga and meditation excel at self-care.
It starts with getting you in your body. For most of us, we live our life in our mind, which is always on the go. It can take you to the moon and back in a second. It can mire you in your most terrible memories and send you chasing after possible future scenarios. Every thought creates a castle in the sky, dragging you away from the present moment.
This is why every Svaroopa® yoga class begins with a Guided Awareness. You start with your toes, all ten toes…all at the same time. You get present in your own body from toe to top. This is so important, for your body needs your presence to be a living body.
Next you do Ujjayi Pranayama, the breathing practice that re-enlivens you. It pumps your prana, your vital life force. It’s very much like taking your car to the gas station. Without fuel, your car won’t go far. It is the same with your body. It needs to be fueled up with prana to work at full capacity.
After Shavasana and Ujjayi, you do some yoga poses which release your muscular tensions. Your aches and pains melt away, and you move more easily and fluidly. Your body is transformed. This makes a difference in your day-to-day life. Yet the truest purpose is to make you fit to explore the deeper dimensions of your being.
There is a big misconception about spirituality, that you must transcend your body. It is actually quite the opposite. For it is in your own body that you have the ability to explore your own greatness. Gurudevi says it this way in her new book, Yoga: Embodied Spirituality:
You must dive into your own body, your own mind, your own being and discover who you are and what you are made of. Yours is such a precious body. What an extraordinary place, a physical location, to enter into and to explore. What a great gift the body is!
Truely, your body is a great gift. You were born with a body and mind to explore the outer world as well as the inner world. We have gotten very good at focusing externally. Now it is time to use your body and mind differently, to explore inside.
Your body is a pathway inward. For when you are present in your body, you are in the here and now. In this place, in this space, in your own skin. When you look inward, deeper than your mind, you discover that you are Presence-Itself. Presence is not so limited to your idea of outside and inside. For Presence is all-expansive, all-encompassing, Existence-Itself. Yet when you are finding your own Presence, you don’t start with the macro. You start with the micro.
While a birthday is a day that we label as special, really every day is a celebration of you. You were born into a body for the precious opportunity to discover who you truly are. It is with your own body that you can do these spiritual practices. It is with your body that you can explore the inner dimensions of your own being. There is so much to discover inside. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with your toes!
Yudishthira was inspired by the story of Nala and Damayanti. Hearing the story from Sage Brihadvasa encouraged him to be more content and present with the situation, while he was preparing for the future.
It had been five long years since Arjuna left them. As they hadn’t heard about Arjuna for a very long time, again the Pandavas started to worry about him.
During this time Sage Lomasha visited them. Through his divine vision he was able to know about Arjuna’s wellbeing and comforted Pandavas.
Sage Lomasha advised the Pandavas to go on a pilgrimage. Yudhishthira humbly requested the sage to join and guide them. The sage happily agreed and escorted them to numerous holy places. The sage recited many stories to the Pandavas, teaching them to be courageous and to be patient. The Pandavas heard stories about sages, kings and demons. Here are some of those stories the Sage shared with them.
The first and foremost story was about Agastya Muni, who is one of the seven most revered rishis in the Vedic texts. Once Agastya witnessed some souls hanging upside down, being in pain. Startled by this sight, Agastya asked them who they were and the reason for their severe austerities.
The souls answered, saying they were souls of his ancestors. The reason they were in that state was because of Agastya himself. They explained that Agastya, by being celibate, therefore hadn’t produced any children to do the rituals for the deceased forefathers. They also said if Agastya would marry and have children then, not only them, but he himself would be set free from life and death. So, Agastya decided to marry to gain salvation for his ancestors.
The king of Vidarbha came seeking Agastya’s blessings to have a child. The sage said that the king would be blessed with a beautiful daughter but with the condition that, when she comes of age, the marriage should be with him and no one else. The king was delighted to receive this blessing, as at that time he was desperate to have a child.
The king had a beautiful daughter as the sage promised and named her Lopamudra. The king’s daughter grew up to be a beautiful maiden. Even though her beauty was known to all, none came to marry her as they were afraid of Agastya muni.
Agastya visited the kingdom of Vidharpa to claim his bride. The king was not at all ready to give his daughter away to an ascetic. He loved her so much and was worried that she would not be able to survive living in the forest. But remembering his promise to the sage, he was afraid to break it so he was forced to full fill it.
Seeing her parents in distress and understanding their dilemma, Lopamudra also consoled them and persuaded them to give her to the sage. Hearing this from his beloved daughter was such a comfort to the king. The marriage happened according to the Vedic rituals.
As they were about to leave the palace, Agastya asked his wife to give away all her royal attires and jewelry, so she could wear clothes suiting an ascetic. Having been brought up as a woman of high virtue and piousness, Lopamudra happily accepted his words without hesitation. She went to live with him in the forest in ascetic clothes. She devoted herself in his service and served him very well, winning his heart. They both did severe penance and performed a great deal of austerities.
One day Agastya thought that the time has come to bear a son, as he promised to his ancestral sprits. He approached his wife lovingly and shared his desire. Lopamudra, with due respect, spoke sweetly and said she would very much like for Agastya to first fulfill her wish. Her wish was for the sage to provide her with comforts similar to the ways she was raised by her parents. At first Agastya told her that such a lifestyle would incur expenses. With him being a sage, he could not afford to provide such a life, as this wish demanded that Agastya to earn the needed wealth.
She reminded Agastya that he could certainly make all this happen by his spiritual powers. But Agastya didn’t want to diminish his state for material gains. Falling for her beauty and well-mannered nature, Agastya decided to seek help from nearby kings to fulfill her wishes.
To the first king he visited, Agastya said that he would like some donation from the king without the citizens of the country being affected by it. The king then produced the income and expenditure records which showed that nothing could be spared to fulfill Agastya’s need. This was the case with many other kings.
Agastya began to look around for a way to earn some income. When he couldn’t find any source of income, this led him to get the wealth from a demon named Ilvala.
Ilvala and his brother Vatapi despised brahmins so much that they wanted to kill them all. Bringing the dead from Yama Loka (hell) was a boon Ilvala had been blessed with in the past. So, Ilvala would invite a brahmin for dinner and would magically change his brother Vatapi into a delicious food and serve that to the brahmin. When dinner was over Ilvala would call Vatapi to come out from the brahmin’s stomach. Vatapi would come out, ripping the brahmin apart.
Agastya knew this, so he went along with their plan when he was invited to dinner. He ate Vatapi and digested him fully, using spiritual powers. Ilvala called his brother many times but failed to bring him back. Agastya explained that his brother had been digested and there was no way to bring him back. Knowing Agastya’s powers and desperate to bring his brother back Ilvala bowed before Agastya and gave him the wealth he needed.
After reaching home with the wealth, Agastya asked his wife if she would like to have ten good sons or one son who could win over ten at a time. She said she only needed a son who is rooted in righteousness with praiseworthy knowledge. She was blessed with the good and learned son as she wished. With this boon, Agastya fulfilled his ancestor’s wishes as well.
Lopamudra was not only the wife of a great sage but a great being in her own right. Many of the Rig Veda hymns are attributed to her. It is said that her hymns elaborate on the relationship between husband and wife who are following celibacy.
As there are many stories about Agastya Muni, one of the other stories Sage Lomasha told the Pandavas was the following.
Mount Vindhya was the mighty mountain of the central range of India. Once Mount Vindhya got jealous about Mount Meru. It wanted to be as tall and mighty as Mount Meru, reaching to the sky and blocking the sun and the moon. So, Mount Vindhya started growing and growing, and began to block everything in its reach.
The devas were threatened by this, so they sought help from Agastya Muni, who was on his way to the south. When Agastya arrived at the Mount Vindhya region, he sat down. Seeing the great Sage, Mount Vindhya bowed down to Agastya Muni with devotion and shared his frustration about Mount Meru and its mightiness.
Agastya said to Mount Vindhya, “Just stay here. I will go down to the south and on my way back, we will deal with your issue.” So, Mount Vindhya remained bowed down, waiting for Agastya to come back. It is believed that Agastya never returned. He remained in the south, thus Mount Vindhya remains subdued.
Sage Lomasha also recited the story of Rishyashringa to teach the Pandavas another important lesson.
Sage Vibhandaka, son of Rishi Kashyapa, saw the most beautiful nymph, Urvashi. This sight aroused him and he emitted his seed which fell into the river. A nymph, cursed to be in a body of a doe, swallowed it and miraculously became pregnant. After giving birth to a son, she was liberated from her curse.
The baby boy was born with horns, thus named Rishyashringa (deer-horned). Sage Vibhandaka decided to raise him isolated from society, specifically not exposing him to any female. So, Rishyashringa grew up unaware of the existence of the female gender. He practiced brahmacharya and acquired powers due to his chastity.
The King of Anga, Romapada, was desperately searching to get relief from a drought and famine. He couldn’t perform any yaj~nas (ritual fire ceremony) for relief as he had offended a brahmin. Therefore no other brahmin would agree to perform the rituals for him. Due to the lack of the yaj~nas, Indra, King of the Devas, punished the kingdom of Anga by stopping the rain. King Romapada was urgently searching to find a man with perfect chastity to get relief when he learned about Rishyashringa.
King Romapada sent one of his courtesans to the forest to Rishyashringa, while his father was away, to bring him to his kingdom. Rishyashringa was amazed by the presence of the woman who claimed to be a hermit herself. She spoke so softly with a sweet tone. He had never heard such a sweet voice in his life.
He thought the woman was a man but was puzzled by the feelings developing in him naturally when she hugged him. She played her tricks on him, arousing him, and then left before his father arrived. Due to this Rishyashringa became lovesick and started slacking in his duties.
When the father arrived, he was shocked to see the state of his son, not to mention the state of the ashram. At once the sage knew what had happened. He immediately went in search for the culprit who had disturbed his son’s celibacy.
The courtesan came back to the son, carefully watching the father, without getting caught. She invited Rishyashringa to follow her to her ashram, taking him straight to the kingdom of Anga. Romapada was very pleased as it started to rain the moment Rishyashringa entered the kingdom. The king married his daughter Shanta to Rishyashringa. Thus Rishyashringa started to know about women for the first time.
The king was now afraid of Sage Vibhandaka’s wrath. He knew that the sage would come in search of his son. He prepared a grand welcome for the sage. Once the sage witnessed his son being so happy, living a royal life, he blessed him with a full heart and advised him to return to the forest once he had a son. Rishyashringa followed his father’s advice, returning to the forest life with his wife Shanta after producing an heir to the throne.
Thus, Sage Lomasha narrated the story of Rishyashringa and gave the following teaching, “Some think that if someone is brought up without the knowledge of the world, it is easy to live a celibate life, but this is worthless. Similarly, a kingdom guarded in the above manner would fall to the enemy easily.” He then showed the Pandavas the place where Rishyashringa’s ashram once stood. He asked them to have a holy bath in the nearby river to purify themselves and to get the blessings. They continued with their journey with Sage Lomasha.
You always look better at the end of a meditation program or yoga class. That’s because, when you arrive, often you don’t look so good. Perhaps your skin is ashen and dry. Or your face, your neck and shoulders are crooked – even your gait. You may look anxious and worried, the outside showing what you feel like inside.
All this makes the light in your eyes dull and your face wrinkled. Instead of skipping though life, you may be limping along.
I watch people come in for yoga classes and meditation programs. They limp in. They skip out. It’s completely reliable.
— Gurudevi Nirmalananda, Changing Your Future,Teachings Article, April 2023
In the 16th century, explorers looked for the Fountain of Youth to feel young and more alive again. Yoga is the Fountain of Youth. I love watching you during your yoga class or meditation program. When it ends you look younger. Your spine has lift. Your face softens as your wrinkles melt away. You have color in your face. More light shines through your eyes. You look radiant and you feel full of life.
I went through this too. Before yoga, I was getting physical therapy for a neck & shoulder injury. Unfortunately, it was not taking care of my pain. Then I started yoga. My spine lifted and lengthened. My pain lessened as my shoulders, neck and head moved back in line with my spine. As I did more yoga, I felt better and better.
Then Gurudevi taught me to meditate. I felt even better.The pain in my neck completely went away. My body was more fluid, and my mind was sharper and clearer. I had more energy. I felt younger and more alive.
How does this work? Yoga and meditation ignite your own healing power. Through these practices, the energy that was trapped by your spinal tensions begins to flow. This energy is yoga’s fountain of youth. When this energy is flowing through your spine, you get younger. Simply look in the mirror. This energy enlivens your body, your mind, your heart, and your life.
Where does this energy come from? Your own Self. From your yoga practice you deepen more and more into the source of youth – your own Self, your own Divine Essence. This is the mystery and the majesty of yoga. As you deepen within, your own mystical energy flows stronger and stronger through your spine. Along with being enlivened and youthened, you have access to deeper, richer and more profound experiences of your own Beingness.
You feel younger when you are more your Self. This is because your own essence that is arising is ever young. It is the eternal. Yet your body does have a limited life span. Tick, tick, tick. It means that the time is now! Do more yoga and to deepen into your own Self while your body and mind can respond.
In a Teacher Training program, a middle-aged student was frustrated with another student who often distracted the group with her antics. At one point the frustrated student said, “You are younger. I am older. I have less time left to deepen into these teachings.” The younger yogi got it.
Unfortunately, the frustrated teacher had less time than she thought. A few years later she was diagnosed with cancer and died. How much time do you have left? Nobody knows. How do you want to spend your time?
The poet Bhartrihari warns:
I thought I was enjoying sense pleasures;
I did not realize they were enjoying me.
I thought I was spending time;
I did not realize it was spending me.
— Bhartrihari Vairaagya Shataka, verse 7
The reality is you always find time for what you really want to do. If you want to feel better, you can make time for it. It means that you miss out on another opportunity. You can’t do everything. Are you choosing to get old – or young? Are you choosing to be peace-filled – or anxiety filled? What you choose determines what you will get. It is a personal choice. To be young and vitally alive, as well as to deepen into the eternality of your own Beingness, do more yoga.
Enlightenment is not what you think. Firstly, enlightenment is not what you think it is. Secondly, and more importantly, enlightenment is not about your mind, so it’s not about what you are thinking. Yet your mind can keep you from being enlightened.
In other words, you must use your mind to get enlightened, but you use your mind in a way that gets you beyond your mind. Enlightenment is a state of being, not a state of mind. It is a deep inner feeling, but not an emotion. Best of all, it’s effortless.
Being unenlightened is hard! You have to constantly review your anxieties and limitations. Your sense of self worth is dependent on how others see you, which means you’re always performing, trying to win their good opinions. Worse, your opinion of yourself needs help.
Enlightenment is a state of profound ease and joy. It needs no external support or feedback as it arises from within. The ever-arising flow of Divine Consciousness washes away all anxieties and limitations. This is called freedom, freedom from who you thought you were so you can be who you really are – Consciousness Incarnate.
How do you get enlightened? You get it from one who has it. It’s just like if you are shopping for shoes. Don’t go to the florist. You’ve probably been trying to get enlightened by learning from unenlightened people. No wonder it’s hard!
It’s time to go shopping for enlightened beings. Find a few, meet them in person if you can. Try out the practices they give and see what you get. Just like shoe shopping – slip them on and walk around in them for a bit.
But the difference with enlightened beings is that you want one that both uplifts you and challenges you, so you can’t stay in your old ruts. It’s dark in there.