You have a built-in ability to meditate. Most people that I know who don’t currently meditate believe it’s a good idea. But they aren’t sure where to begin. Some think it might be hard or weird. However, you actually already know how. When you drive a car, play a musical instrument or engage in a sport, you concentrate. Even to wash dishes or have a conversation with a friend, you focus. It’s something you do many times every day. It’s how you achieve anything in the world. My Guru’s Guru taught that whatever you accomplish in the world, comes through your power of concentration. This is nothing but meditation, though on external things.
You are used to meditating on external, everyday things. But your mind is like the camera on your phone. Your camera focuses on what’s in front of you. Or you tap a button to flip the camera to focus on yourself. You can do that with your mind: flip the lens of your mind to shift your focus from looking outside to looking inside. And what will you find when you look within?
Well, first you’ll encounter the contents of your mind: hopes, fears, memories, lions, tigers and bears, oh my! But all that mental activity, while real and important, is only the surface layer of what you’ll find. There’s much more to you. Yoga calls the more that you are, your capital-S Self.
A classic yogic comparison is that your Self is like the ocean. Like the waves that keep on coming, your thoughts rise and fall, rise and fall. But the waves are only the surface of the ocean. In the same way, your thoughts are simply the surface level of who you are. You have far greater depths.
When you dive beneath the waves, the water is calmer. It’s quieter, and deeply peaceful. When you meditate, you dive deeper than your thoughts, even deeper than your mind, into quiet, boundless, holy depths. You discover you are not just a swimmer in the ocean. You are the whole ocean. From the shallows to the depths, you are all of it. It’s called the “Ocean of Consciousness.” There’s only One Reality. It’s Divine. It’s your own Self.
Meditation immerses you in the depths of your Divinity. When you emerge, you’re refreshed, renewed and uplifted. You don’t become someone different or something you are not. You feel like you; you’re at your best. At first, that wonderful feeling of well-being fades as you get farther from your meditation. But over time your ability to live from your Divine Depths increases. Even though you have the inherent ability to meditate, you have to practice. You spend too much of your time paddling around in the waves. You won’t become an accomplished deep-sea diver overnight. And the technique you choose matters; you need one that works for you. Something tried and true. Something that makes it easy. I found that in Svaroopa®Vidya Meditation. This meditation works by the means of a chaitanya mantra. That means it’s enlivened. It is imbued with the energy of revelation and upliftment by the yoga masters of this lineage. These Gurus have preceded you on the path. When you apply your innate ability to concentrate to this enlivened mantra, you are powerfully propelled into the delicious depths of your Self. Then your meditation is more than easy — it’s enlightening.
Reaching the Yamuna river, the fishermen village, Devavrata met Satyavati and her father Dashraj, the tribal fishermen chief. Devavrata spoke to them about his father’s desire and the refusal due to the condition imposed by Dashraj. Dashraj emphasized again the importance of his daughter becoming the queen, saying that he didn’t have any doubt that she would fit into that role beautifully. Also, he reiterated that her children should be the ones who would rule Hastinapura after King Shantanu.
Devavrata promised that he would give up the right to the Hastinapura throne, so that his father could marry Satyavati. Satyavati’s father thought for a minute. Then he said that he was happy to see a son who is willing to give up the throne for his father’s happiness, which had never been heard of in any kingdom. But he said that he was not sure that Devavrata’s sons will give up the right to the throne as easily as their father. They may be as valiant as their father and therefore become a threat to his daughter and her children.
Hearing this, Devavrata, determined to fulfill his father’s desires, unexpectedly took his knife out and cut his palm. He said, “I, Devavrata, with my blood, make a vow in my mother Ganga’s name, that I will remain a brahmachari (celibate) for the rest of my life, and not produce any heir.”
All the devas appeared in the sky and showered flowers on Devavrata for the unbelievable vow he had taken. Satyavati’s father was speechless. After a while, he then said, “Devavrata, I truly admire your love towards your father. Taking a vow not to marry for the happiness of your father, I am flabbergasted. It has never been done before and I am certain it will never be done in the future too. I give my daughter in marriage to your father with honor. Please take her to your father at once.” Devavrata was so happy. He set off to the palace with Satyavati in the chariot.
When King Shantanu saw Satyavati coming to the palace in Devavrata’s chariot, he was overwhelmed with happiness. He praised his son for bringing his love to him. He hugged him with affection and blessed him with all his heart. Then he held Satyavati’s arm and took her into the palace. Devavrata bowed down to his father and returned to his chambers with heart filled with joy that he could see his father happy again.
King Shantanu was anxious to know how Satyavati’s father had agreed for their marriage. So, at the first chance he got, he asked from Satyavati, what transpired between her father and Devavrata. Satyavati told him the complete story, and when she finished it, the king was shocked beyond his limits. Understanding the extreme severe vow his son had taken to make him happy, he felt giddy. He passed out, in such grief that he had never felt in his life before, uttering the words, “Ek Bhishma Pratigya!” meaning, a most dreadful pledge.
All the Devas appeared in the sky and called out, “Bhishma! Bhishma! Bhishma! Blessed Devavrata,” and said that going forward Devavrata will be known as Bhishma. They also gave him a boon that he could decide the time and place of his death. From that day onwards, Devavrata was called Bhishma! Only then did Satyavati come to understand the seriousness of the situation that her father and she had created for the throne of Hastinapura .
As everyone knows, time is the great healer. So, in time, Shantanu and Satyavati were reconciled to what happened. In due course, Satyavati had two boys. The elder was named Chitrangada and the younger was named Vichitravirya. Years passed and after Shantanu’s death, Chitrangada was crowned as the king of Hastinapura, but he didn’t last long. Though he was a great warrior, he fell in a battle a short time later. The king of the Gandharvas, for his name’s sake, came to challenge Chitrangada. A fierce battle took place between the two warriors which lasted a long time, but in the end the king of the Gandharvas defeated Chitrangada and killed him. This made the Hastinapura throne vacant. Though Vichitravirya was a minor, he was crowned to be the ruler of Hastinapura. As Bhishma promised to Satyavati, that he would protect the throne of Hastinapura and treat whoever sits on it as his father’s image, he served the king faithfully. Bhishma became the Guru and guardian of Vichitravirya. Unfortunately, Vichitravirya grew up to be a person who was not physically strong and lacked qualities to be a true king.
When Vichitravirya came to age, Bhishma and Satyavati were looking for a suitable bride for him. At the same time, the king of Kashi organized a Swayamvara, a groom selection event, for his three daughters, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. He had invited all the eligible kings and princes from around his kingdom, but excluded Vichitravirya and Hastinapura due to an old grudge. This was considered an insult to Hastinapura.
Satyavati took this seriously and wanted Bhishma to go to Kashi to bring the princesses back to be wedded to Vichitravirya, as she thought they were the best fit for Vichitravirya. Bhishma argued against abducting the princesses during a Swayamvara, by using strength, even though it’s a common practice among big kingdoms. He finally agreed to do what Satyavati wanted, as he also considered the Kashi princesses to be good matches for Vichitravirya. Also, disobeying the Queen Mother was unacceptable for Bhishma, as he had vowed to protect Hastinapura as its servant.
On the day of the Swayamvara, Bhishma stormed into Kashi and challenged all the participants for a fight. At the end, he seized the three princesses. Some of the eligible kings and princes in attendance didn’t even think of crossing Bhishma’s path, nor did the king of Kashi. They knew the power and valor of Bhishma. Bhishma was so daunting, none of them or their armies could mount a challenge to him. The only king who stood against him was King Shalva. But he was defeated badly. Therefore Bhishma forcefully brought all three princesses to Hastinapura without any major issues.
In Hastinapura, Satyavati and Bhishma ordered the formal wedding ceremonies, to wed the princesses to Vichitravirya. While the second and third princesses, Ambika and Ambalika, were agreeable and cooperating, the eldest, Amba, was not. She had already accepted the proposal from King Shalva of the Saubala kingdom and was in love with him. Amba was furious with the way things turned out, as she was sure the King of the Saubala kingdom would have been her choice in the Swayamvara. She brought this up with Satyavati and Bhishma, requesting them to send her to King Shalva. Advised by Satyavati, Bhishma immediately accepted her request and sent her to the Saubala kingdom with all honors and respects.
While Amba was on her way to the Saubala kingdom, her sisters were married to king Vichitravirya in an exuberant way. The whole of Hastinapura was in celebration mode; the singing and dancing went on for days.
Amba reached the Saubala kingdom and announced that she was sent back by Satyavati and Bhishma to marry King Shalva. King Shalva rejected her saying that he no longer desired her, as she was to be wed to another man. He also said that she was rightfully won by Bhishma, who insulted him and the other kings and princes who were at the Swayamvara. Amba pleaded with Shalva, whom she considered as her true love, to accept her, but Shalva refused to accept her. Rejected and heart-broken Amba left the Saubala kingdom and went to the forest, not knowing what to do. She felt enraged and humiliated. She thought for some time, then headed towards Hastinapura .
Seeing Amba returning, Bhishma knew that the King Shalva had refused her hand. Seeing tragedy written all over Amba’s face, his eyes emitting sparks, Bhishma, took his bow and quiver, asking her to come with him to the Saubala kingdom so he could teach the King a lesson and make him honor his love. Amba refused, saying that she could not go to the coward lover and that she could not go through that type of humiliation all over again.
So Bhishma went to Vichitravirya, asking him to marry Amba. He too refused, saying he was not willing to marry her because she had someone else in her heart. Amba was getting angrier by the minute due to what she was going through. Bhishma then asked Amba to go back to her parents in the Kashi kingdom. Amba refused, saying she was abducted, a humiliation to her father, thus she was sure that he would not accept her back. Bhishma tried to persuade her otherwise, but it didn’t work.
Her anger towards Bhishma flared up, burning like wildfire in her heart, as she had concluded that Bhishma was the reason her life was in a mess. She turned to Bhishma and said, “You are the person who came to my Swayamvara, and brought me here, therefore it is you who needs to marry me!” Bhishma refused immediately, saying he cannot do so due to his Vow! Driven to extreme desperation, Amba flew into a rage. With her eyes raging fire, she Vowed, “Bhishma! You are the cause for this utter hopeless state of mine. I will not rest until I take revenge on you!”
Amba decided to do severe penance dedicated to Lord Kartikeya, seeking his help to avenge Bhishma. Lord Kartikeya, delighted with her devotion, appeared in front of her and gave her an ever-fresh flower garland. He said that whoever wears this garland would become the arch enemy of Bhishma and be the cause of Bhishma’s death.
Receiving the garland with satisfaction, Amba went to every single kingdom around, asking the kings to wear the garland to help her out. None of them were willing to do this, as they were too afraid to go against Bhishma. At last she went to the King of Panchala, Drupada, hoping he might agree, as he was not on good terms with Bhishma anyway. He too refused to wear the garland. Amba with a broken heart, frustrated, tired and exhausted, hung the garland on the palace door of King Drupada and went into the forest.
Amba marched into the forest and sought shelter that night with a group of ascetics along the riverbank. The next day, upon listening to Amba’s ordeal, the sages advised her to approach the great Parashurama, Bhishma’s Guru. Taking their advice Amba went to Parashurama at once. Amba conveyed her predicament to Parashurama and prayed to him for help. Parashurama gave his word to Amba that he would make Bhishma marry her or else would destroy him.
Parashurama went to the vicinity of Hastinapura and sent word to Bhishma to meet him. Parashurama tried to convince Bhishma to marry Amba, but Bhishma refused due to his vow. Parashurama called him out for a battle, but Bhishma said he would not battle his Guru. Parashurama said that if Bhishma refused the battle, it would be disobeying his Guru. Hearing this, Bhishma agreed to fight.
Thus, the battle between the teacher and the taught began. The battle was fierce, lasting for days without anyone emerging as the winner. With no way out, Bhishma took hold of the celestial weapon that Indra had bestowed on him, and Parashurama readied his great Parashu for the fight. Seeing this from far away, Mother Ganga prayed to Lord Shiva to stop the fight, as she knew that, if these weapons clash, it will lead to universal destruction. When both Parashurama and Bhishma used their weapons on each other, Lord Shiva appeared and absorbed both the weapons within him, answering Ganga’s prayers.
Seeing Lord Shiva, both Parashurama and Bhishma dropped everything and worshipped the Lord. Lord Shiva returned the weapons to each of them and told them to stop their fighting.
Watching this, Amba worshipped Lord Shiva and requested a resolution to her ordeal. Lord Shiva asked what she wanted. She replied that she wants to end Bhishma’s life. Lord Shiva granted her wish, saying that she will be the cause of Bhishma’s death, but it will only be possible in her next birth. Amba accepted the Lord’s words and walked away to end her life, so that she can be born again to fulfill her ambition of killing Bhishma. Bhishma assures Amba, that he will one day, when the time comes, make her wish come true. Her story will be followed in a later chapter. Bhishma fell on Parashurama’s feet, asking for forgiveness for taking up arms against him. Parashurama blessed his disciple and returned to continue his meditation.
I teach in a miracle factory. A miracle is “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency” (lexico.com). Do you believe in miracles? Nearly eighty percent of Americans do. Believing in miracles is not limited to a certain age group or restricted to certain religious denominations or affiliations, reported by Psychology Today. Yet it turns out only 38% Americans said they have had a miracle from God (faithgateway.com). I find that percentage to be too low, for I hear miracle stories from Svaroopa® Yoga teachers and students every day!
Before yoga, I was involved in outrigger canoe racing on the Pacific Ocean. During one race a big wave poured into our 400-pound boat. It became even heavier. We stroked harder and harder to keep moving forward. In my efforts, I injured my neck and shoulder. For years I went to various doctors and therapists to heal, but nothing freed me from the pain. My life became very limited. If I wasn’t at work, I was at home recovering on the couch. I could not do much more than that.
For nine long years, I took the maximum dose of Advil every day. At one point I said in desperation, “God! If you will just relieve my neck pain, I will not ask for anything more.” Well, after that I found Svaroopa® Yoga. I was relieved of my neck pain within a year and a half. So fast! It was a miracle. More miracles were to come.
Now I do not agree that miracles are “not explicable.” While science is unable to explain such miracles, yoga has a clear explanation. In yoga, miracles are reliable and predictable. Yoga taps into the source of healing, the inner source of miracles. Every time you do any of the Svaroopa® Yoga practices, you access the source of healing within you. The source is svaroopa — your own capital-S Self, your own inherent Divine Essence. Every time you have an experience of Self, you feel healed. This healing arises on all levels of your being simultaneously: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
In the beginning, you don’t realize all that is unfolding within you, from the inside out. You come into a yoga class with some physical, mental or emotional pain. Then a miracle happens. It heals! Yet, even though now you are healed, you keep coming back to do more yoga. Do you keep going to the doctor, if you are healed? No, but you come back to yoga. Now you are coming back for a whole different reason.
As wonderful as yoga’s healing benefits are, they are only the tip of the iceberg. The real miracle is greater. It is explained in the Shiva Sutras:
Vismayo yoga-bhumika.h —Shiva Sutras 1.12
Yogic realizations are truly amazing.
(translated by Swami Nirmalananda)
Your Svaroopa® yoga practices lead you on the inward journey that is the goal of yoga. This is the exploration of your own Self, your own Divine Essence. Wonders begin to unfold inside that are beyond what you could ever imagine. Look back to when you first started yoga. Now look where you are now. Could you have imagined what you have gotten so far? This is a miracle. You didn’t even know what to ask for. Yet you have received it: yourself being the Self that you are now.
The yogis agree with the dictionary in stating that a miracle is “the work of divine agency.” In yoga, by Grace, amazement after amazement unfolds within. The Shaktipat Guru is a dedicated agent of Grace, which is the Divine Energy of Revelation. It is the function of the Guru to reveal your own Self to you. The unfoldment, the amazement, begins in earnest when you receive Shaktipat. Shaktipat ignites your inner process of discovery. The miracles become more and more amazing as you deepen into your own Self, expanding into the infinity of your own being.
I teach in a miracle factory. It’s the biggest one I know, for I hear miracle stories from teachers and students every day! This miracle factory is powered not by electricity, but by Grace. Every day, these miracles are delivered all over the world. They are fast, predictable and reliable. Through the Svaroopa® Yoga practices, particularly meditation and mantra repetition, you will live in the amazing and ever-deepening discovery of your own Self, from the inside out.
Repetition is how you learn and develop skills. For example, when you’re teaching or giving a speech, repetition is necessary to get your point across. Only thirty-three percent of the group are hearing what you say at any given point in time. When you are listening to someone, there’s a sixty-six percent chance that you don’t hear what they say. Even if you hear it, you may not get its complete meaning. Thus, educators and effective communicators know to offer the same information in three different ways. Repetition is valuable.
As a Svaroopa® Yoga Teacher Trainer, I always give information about a pose five times. I demonstrate the pose, the students feel it in their bodies, do a partner-pairing process, then see it again and add personal notes to the information on their handout. When they return for more training, we review the same pose before adding more to it. Often they say, “The information is so much clearer this time.” Or, “You are presenting it more clearly.” They even think we’ve changed the handout because it is much easier to understand now. But the handout hasn’t changed. Neither have the Trainers’ presentation skills. Repetition is what made the difference.
The sage Patanjali explains how this works:
Tat-prati.sedhaartham eka tattvaabhyaasah
—Yoga Sutras 1.32
Focus on a single subject or technique to prevent the inner obstacles.
Repetition cultivates this one-pointed focus. It prevents the obstacles that keep your mind active and cause distractions. Simply pick an object of concentration and stay with it. You stay steady with what you have chosen. Of course, this focus makes your work in the world effective. Yoga says, however, that ultimately your goal as a human being is more than doing good work, avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure. The goal is to attain the knowing of your own Divine Essence. When you make this choice, mantra repetition keeps you staying steady with it. You use your mind for a spiritual purpose.
In Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation, you repeat an enlivened mantra which honors your own Self. By applying your mind to these sacred words, a pathway is cleared allowing you to experience the knowing of God, your own Self. By repeating mantra, you come to live in that deeper knowing of who you truly are all the time. Yoga has thousands of practices to attain this goal. Mantra repetition is the most powerful. So constantly repeat mantra to know God within you.
It is through your mind that you have the capacity and ability to repeat mantra. Sages, both ancient and contemporary, expound on the power of mantra repetition. Each time you repeat the mantra, you are imprinting your mind with Divine Consciousness. You are using your mind to its fullest capacity, opening inward to your own Divine Essence. Repeating mantra takes you to God. “When you repeat mantra,” says a great yogic sage, “the mind assumes the form of God.”
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati, my teacher, has passed this sacred mantra on to me and countless seekers through the teachings of the Svaroopa® Sciences. She received the mantra from her teacher, who received it from his teacher. The passing of the mantra from Guru to disciple extends back through thousands of years. The vibrations of the voices of these God-intoxicated beings infuse the mantra with Grace. Thus, these Gurus, sages and meditation masters have bestowed countless blessings on us.
Once you receive this mantra, let it fill your mind. You can even have multiple tracks of your 12-track mind repeating this mantra. Let it reverberate through your mind and into your whole being. Why? Because mantra holds Consciousness It-Self. Mantra fills your mind with Consciousness. Then more and more, that Light illumines your mind. Yes, repetition is valuable. Repeating mantra can bring you this Light, which is your own Self. Repeat more mantra!
You are great. Yes, you. Repeat out loud to yourself, “I am Great!” I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you. Put some breath into it, and don’t forget the exclamation point. Enthusiastically repeat out loud, “I am GREAT!”
It’s not the things you do, the people you know or the places you go that make you great. You’re great because you’re a human being. The yoga sages tell us that you are not merely great but greatness itself. You have greatness hidden within you right now. You already are greatness. You merely need to discover it. When you find your greatness, you find your you-ness.
You know this to be true. I can prove it to you. When you are not feeling great, you notice and do something about it. When your body hurts you slow down, get a massage or do some yoga poses. When you’re sad, you look for something to make you happy. You call a friend, read an uplifting book or repeat mantra. In contrast, when you’re feeling great you don’t say, “Hmmm… something isn’t right here. I should feel bad.” It’s natural for you to feel great in your body, mind and heart.
My teacher, Swami Nirmalananda, describes our inherent greatness this way:
You feel most like yourself when you are shining with light. When your eyes twinkle, when your heart overflows, when your words have a melody hidden in them, and when your actions show your generous and loving nature – you feel so natural. You feel like yourself.
You’ve had many of these experiences before. You were glowing on your graduation and/or wedding day. Your eyes twinkle when you look at someone you love. Your heart has overflowed with love for others many times. When you speak about something dear to you, your words flow like a smooth waltz. You have done so many good things for others out of the kindness of your heart. In these moments, you are living from your greatness. It’s a sneak peek of your future.
Before yoga, one of my favorite ways to get a sneak peek into my greatness was volunteering. I remember volunteering for my high school to serve a meal for the homeless. I showed up and poured myself into the tasks at hand. I put together cheese sandwiches with so much care and attention. My heart overflowed as I ensured that everyone was offered a hot beverage. I glowed as I helped with cleaning up. As I left that day, there was a joyful skip in my walk. While I was giving that day, I was the one who received the most. I got to experience my greatness.
Yoga’s guarantee of your greatness is not limited to certain events in your life. Yoga says you’ll glow everyday of your life. Your eyes will twinkle when you look at everyone. Your words will have a melody hidden in them even while reading a legal document. All your actions will show your generous and loving nature. You will be your greatness all the time and pour it into everything you do.
To discover your greatness, you must turn your attention inward to explore the depths of your being. With your first look inward, you’ll probably find your mind. You need to go deeper than your mind to find your you-ness. You discover the beingness that is being you. Yoga has many names for the you-ness, the greatness, that you are. One of them is Shiva, the Ultimate Reality being you, everyone and everything.
Now the question is: how do you get beyond your mind? Yoga uses your mind to get beyond your mind. It’s a nifty trick. You apply your mind to the repetition of a mantra. Specifically, an enlivened mantra passed down from a lineage of yoga masters. They repeated the mantra and discovered their own greatness. They’ve given us the mantra so that we can do the same. Now your job is first to receive the mantra from an authorized teacher, then to use it.
As you repeat more mantra, you will realize your inherent greatness. When you discover your greatness, you discover you. Being your greatness is so natural.
When Ganga took their eighth son to Indra’s heaven with her, King Shantanu was very disappointed. He returned to the palace deeply saddened, missing his sons and, most of all, he missed his beloved Ganga. Hastinapur went into a gloomy period, as the king lost interest in everything and didn’t pay much attention to the welfare of the country. The ministers managed the affairs to the best of their ability but, as everyone knows, it was not the same as having a king managing the nation.
Almost every day, King Shantanu returned to the banks of the river Ganga, anticipating the return of Ganga and his eighth son. A number of long years passed, with his grief growing worse each and every single day of those years. One day, on his daily trip to the river, he saw a young, handsome adolescent boy playing, shooting arrows. Shantanu was fascinated by the talent this young lad had with his bow and arrows. He had built a dam across the river by shooting arrows into the river, blocking the flow of the water. Who could have such a great talent to be able to block the flow of Ganga?
As Shantanu was watching the young man with awe, Ganga emerged from the river, saying that the young lad was his eighth son, Devavrata. She had taken Devavrata to different realms where he was brought up and learned all the Vedas, arts of war and statecraft. From Brihaspati, the guru for all the devas, he learned the duties of kings. From Vasishta, one of the Sapta (seven) Rishis, he learned the Vedas. From Shukracharya, the guru for all the asuras, he learned politics. From Sanatkumara, one of the sons of Lord Brahma, he learned the mental and spiritual sciences. From Markandeya, one of the immortals who had acquired the everlasting youth from Lord Shiva himself, he learned the duties of a man. From Parashurama, one of the immortals and the sixth Avatar of Vishnu, he learned the art of warfare. Finally, Indra, the king of the devas, bestowed celestial weapons on him.
King Shantanu was delighted to have Devavrata, his eighth son, back home. He tried to convince Ganga to stay with him, though he knew it was not going to happen. But in the end, he had a suitable successor to his throne. He returned to the palace, accompanied by Devavrata. At getting his son back, Shantanu’s joy knew no bounds.
Within a day of Devavrata’s arrival, King Shantanu ordered his ministers to arrange a grand celebration welcoming his son. The day after the celebrations, King Shantanu called his court for a meeting and declared Devavrata as the Crown Prince of Hastinapura. The whole of Hastinapura was thrilled and jubilant.
Devavrata was a very courageous and valiant young prince. He had no fear about anything. One day when he was training a new horse, he rode the horse a fair distance, from Hastinapura to one of the kingdom’s borders. There he saw the neighboring Salva king and his army marching to invade Hastinapura.
Devavrata challenged him single-handedly and put Salva’s army to a decisive defeat. Devavrata captured Salva king and brought him to his father, King Shantanu. King Shantanu was very happy and proud of his son. Yet his thoughts were still with Ganga. He missed her very much. It made him sad. On most days, he went out on his own, riding in the countryside in hopes of seeing her again.
A few years passed. Hastinapura was back to its glory days, flourishing because Crown Prince Devavrata stepped in for the king most of the time. One day, when King Shantanu was riding in his chariot along the river Yamuna, he smelled a heavenly fragrance unlike anything he’d ever smelled before. He searched for the source and found it to be an extremely beautiful young lady. He asked who she was. She replied that she was Satyavati, the daughter of the tribal fishermen chief, Dashraj.
Who is Satyavati? There once lived a King named Vasu, a very pious and truthful King who was married to Queen Girika, a devoted wife. By his intense penance towards Lord Indra, Vasu gained Indra’s eternal friendship, and the gift of an evergreen garland and an aircraft to travel to the heavens. Thus, he received the name Uparichara Vasu (Upward-Going One).
On one of his hunting trips, while he was resting under an ashoka tree, the cool fragrant breeze from the leaves and the sound of singing birds provoked his lust and a longing for his wife. A wave of passion heated him, and he couldn’t restrain his physical response. The thought of wasting his semen bothered him, so he collected it in a leaf and called upon a hawk to carry it quickly to his beloved queen. While carrying the leaf with the semen, the hawk was seen by another hawk who misunderstood the leaf to be food, so he attacked for it. The fight between these two hawks made the leaf fall into the river Yamuna, landing in the mouth of a fish.
Actually the fish was a celestial nymph named Adrika, who was born as a fish due to a sage’s curse. Catching the leaf full of semen, Adrika (as a fish) conceived twins: a boy and a girl. Some fishermen belonged to Uparichara Vasu’s kingdom caught the fish. When they cut the fish open and found the babies, they took the babies to their king, Uparichara Vasu. The King chose the boy to be raised in his palace, naming him Matsya because he was born out of a fish; Vasu returned the girl to the fishermen.
The tribal chief brought her up as his daughter, naming her Kali, the dark one, which was later changed to Satyavati. However, she was commonly called Matsyagandha, meaning one who smells like fish. Indeed, she smelled like fish.
The tribal chief also was a ferryman on the river Yamuna, taking people across the river. Satyavati helped her father with ferrying people. One day, Satyavati was ferrying the sage Parashara across the river. Through his meditative powers, he felt that the time was right for a great sage to be born. This inner knowing would become manifest in the world if he had coitus within a short period of time. Therefore, he wanted Satyavati agree to his wish.
She tried to dissuade him, but Parashara was persistent, desperate not to miss the opportunity to have a great sage as his heir. Satyavati said that, with her fish-like smell, it will be hard for sage Parashara to be with her. With a touch, sage Parashara, turned her fish-like smell into yojan-gandha, the fragrance of musk. Satyavati was taken by this, but then she pleaded that it was not appropriate to have sex in broad daylight, such that her father and the others will be able to see them. Sage Parashara used his powers to shroud the entire area in thick fog. Still she protested that he would to rob her virginity and leave her shamed in society. He blessed Satyavati that it would be a secret and her virginity would remain intact. Unable to dissuade him, also scared that he would get angry and curse her, she agreed.
After the act, the sage had a bath in the river and left, never to meet her again. In accordance with the sage’s blessings, Satyavati gave birth to her baby in secrecy on an island in the river Yamuna. It was a boy, who grew up in a short period of time to be a youth. He was less handsome, but he had a blissful radiance, definitely indicating that he would become a great sage. His name was Krishna (dark) Dvaipayana (born on an island). He later became known as the great sage Vyasa, compiler of the Vedas, author of the Puranas and the Mahabharata, this great epic.
Krishna Dvaipayana promised his mother that he would come to her aid every time she called on him, which she could do by a mere thought. He then left to do penance in the forest. After this, Satyavati returned home and continued to help her father. No one knew what had happened. Her virginity was intact and she now had an everlasting sweet fragrance.
Let’s return to King Shantanu. On the banks of the river, seeing and smelling her, he became love-struck. For the second time in his life, he requested a maiden, who he saw only moments before, to marry him. Satyavati said she had no right to answer that question, that he must ask her father, the tribal chief, for her hand. Immediately, King Shantanu went to her father, explained who he was and requested Satyavati’s hand.
Her father said he had to marry Satyavati to someone soon, that he had no objection and it would be a great honor to give her in marriage to King Shantanu. However, he had one condition, that a son born to Satyavati should be the successor to the Hastinapura throne. But King Shantanu had gotten burnt due to the conditions from Ganga and had already named Devavrata to be Crown Prince. How could he go back on his word to his son? Rejecting this condition, disappointed and unhappy, and with a very heavy heart, King Shantanu returned to the palace.
A few days passed. Devavrata noticed that his father was more dejected than usual. He understood that his father missed his mother and therefore was sad all the time, but this was different. Devavrata wanted to find out about it. King Shantanu would not disclose anything to his son. Determined to find out what happened, Devavrata inquired from all of the workers and others close to the king if anything happened in the past few days that would make his father unhappy. From his father’s charioteer, he found out about the whole ordeal which had transpired at the banks of Yamuna. Devavrata wanted to do something to make his father happy, so had the charioteer take him to Satyavati and her father at once.
I was confused about the difference between mysticism and magic for a long time. One reason is because Western yoga and meditation often bring alternative theories into their yogic quest. What is magical? What is mystical?
Magic is when you use subtle perceptions to make material changes in your life and in the world. You’re looking for outer fulfillment.
Mysticism is when you use subtle perceptions to explore the subtle dimensions within your own being. You’ve figured out that, even if your life were perfect, it wouldn’t be enough. The answer has to be found within.
By the time I took my first Yoga Teacher Training (YTT), I’d already learned about Tarot cards and the I Ching. I studied some palmistry, astrology and other nonconformist things. At the time, I couldn’t have explained why I was curious about these things, but now I can see that I was trying to understand myself better. The tools I’d been given by family and in 20+ years of schooling weren’t working for me. Even the things they told me to avoid — well, I tried them out — and they didn’t work either.
Still it surprised me when my YTT teacher brought in some of those things as well as some I hadn’t heard about previously. She shared everything she knew about yoga but it didn’t fill up all the training hours, so it seemed like she brought in the kitchen sink. She probably thought it was all related. I suppose it is, but it’s a distant relationship, like gold is related to mud.
If you want genuine and profound inner expansion, you will have to give up channeling, Ouija boards, pendulums, mind-reading, foretelling the future and other psychic phenomena. Why? Because all those things are about finding ways to manage the world, not ways to discover your Divine Essence. If you’re flowing your energy outward, into the world, you cannot be flowing it inward, to see and know who you really are. It’s really quite simple.
However, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lists many such siddhis (psychic powers) and tells you how to develop them. While few modern translators even bother with these sutras, there are 48 of them, over 25% of the text. In other words, yogis have always been known for having amazing powers, like levitation, being invisible, bilocation, materialization and more. Yet Patanjali also tells you, “Don’t use these abilities. Using them will hold you back for lifetimes.”
Spirituality is not about magic. It’s not about impressing other people, even with your yogic body or your ability to hold your breath for a long time. You don’t get to flaunt your inner peace or your more refined understanding of life. Instead, show them your open heart and open mind by listening more than you speak. Ask how you can help. And follow through. That’s yoga.
Right now, listening, caring and helping is a yoga practice. It’s a practice that mimics the way you will live once you’re enlightened. When you know your own Divine Essence, you’ll see the same in others. Thus there’s nothing to be proud about, for you are no better than anyone else.
In addition, your inner experience of your own Self is so fulfilling that you won’t crave outer things nor pursue them. You have nothing to fear should you somehow lose everything. What freedom!
It gives you the freedom to listen, to care and to help. Why? Even when you’re enlightened, you still have a body and live in the world. And the world needs you. More than ever before, especially because you have more subtle and powerful perceptions, so you have more to offer. Yet you know that it all comes from one source, the One Source that is in everyone, the One Reality that is being you – Shiva, your own Self. This is mysticism. And it’s pretty magical too!
Your inherent nature is light. You are the light of consciousness, in a unique and individualized form. That light shines through your eyes, fills your heart and is the flash of creativity. The light of your own being arises from its inner source.
A great sage, Shankaracharya, described it this way:
Here, within your own body, through your own mind, in the secret chamber of intelligence, in the infinite universe within your heart, Self shines in its captivating splendor, like a noonday sun. By its light, the universe is revealed.
– Vivekachudamani 98-99, rendered by Gurudevi Nirmalananda.
The physicists and yogis agree that the Big Bang emanated energy which became light; the light coalesced into matter. Everything is made of solidified light. Even your body is made of light. You are embodied light. You simply start “within your own body.” In Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation, you begin by settling into your body, deepening into your seat and allowing your spine to be easily upright. The tool used to turn your mind inward is to apply your mind to mantra. With mantra you are using your mind to go through your mind and beyond your mind.
Mantra carries you deeper within where you find “the secret chamber of intelligence, in the infinite universe within your heart.” The “secret chamber of intelligence” is a knowing that is beyond the mind’s knowing. It is the fully enlivened, fully embodied, fully expanded knowing of your own Self.
Here, “Self shines in its captivating splendor, like a noonday sun. By its light, the universe is revealed.” This means that the Self, your own Self, does not get its light from anything else. It is the source of light. Also, it does not get its capacity of knowing from anything else. It is Knowingness-Itself. It doesn’t get its existence from anything else. It is Existence-Itself. Everything else in the universe that exists gets its existence, its knowing and its light from the Self.
This light is not merely physical light. It is your mind’s capacity to know, whether you are looking inside or outside. I experienced this in meditation. I was looking at my mind being separate from me. I wondered who was the one who was looking at my mind? Who was asking the question? I felt the vastness of my beingness that was deeper than my mind. It was beyond my mind. From this experience, I knew I had a mind but was more than my mind —a lot more than my mind! Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation specializes in giving you the experience of your own Self, so you can discover that you are more than your mind. From this inner depth, you know your own radiance. This is the goal of yoga.
Having the experience of your own Self makes you glow. As a teacher, I can tell when someone is having a deep inner experience of their own Self because they are so radiant. Yet at other times that light is blocked. Svaroopa® yoga practices dissolve the tensions through the multiple levels of your body, mind and heart. They clear away inner blockages that hide the radiance of your own Self. Every pose, yogic breath, mantra repetition and meditation opens up your inherent flow of happiness, joy and light. It’s like cleaning a picture window so clean that you cannot tell it is there. Then the radiance of sunlight shines through the clear glass without being diminished by layers of dust and grime. You experience your own radiance more and more fully, as well as share it with the world.
Kashmiri Shaivism says the whole of the light of Consciousness is intact within you. This ancient yogic tradition promises that you can have this experience while you live your life. The purpose of the Guru, and the service the Guru provides, is to be the embodied light of Consciousness that reveals your own Self, your own radiance, to you. Thus, you experience and come to embody the light of Consciousness that you already are. We call this Grace.
Amazing. That is how I describe the yoga and meditation that I practice. I don’t have a better word because it’s hard to describe the wonderful and powerful experiences that unfold.
Physically, you get amazing benefits. You become free from pain, and your strength and stamina increase. You gain vitality and resilience. A yogi friend recently shared that she did not get her usual spring allergies. They’re gone.
Mentally, you get amazing improvements. Your stress levels go down, your depression lifts, you experience equanimity. Calmness and happiness, even joy, become your baseline. You don’t sweat the small stuff so much. You handle life’s big challenges more easily. I’ve talked to many yogis who recognize that they are handling this pandemic with much less fear than BY (before yoga). They are taking steps to keep themselves, loved ones and everyone safe. They recognize that they are making their decisions based on intelligence, rather than anxiety.
You love more, and, no surprise, you are easier to love. You light up the lives of those around you. Like the Debbie Boone song from the Seventies, “You light up my life, you give me hope….” I know I’m dating myself, but I loved that song. You light up people’s lives.
Amazing, right? So I was delighted to learn that a primary text of the Kashmiri Shaivite meditation system says this:
Vismayo yoga-bhuumikaa.h. — Shiva Sutras 1.12
The wonders of yoga are truly amazing.
(rendered by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati)
Vismayo means amazement or wonder, and yoga-bhuumika.h is the stages of yogic development. If the benefits I’ve described were the only things yoga and meditation did for you, that would be wonderful. Yet, there’s more. The physical and mental benefits and changes are not actually the wonders that this sutra is referring to.
This sutra is about the deeper inner experiences. They are harder to put into words, specifically because they are beyond words. Deeper than words, deeper than your mind, as you immerse yourself into the depths of your inner knowingness and beingness, you have amazing wonder-filled inner experiences. They unfold within, in a progression mapped by the ancient sages. You are following the same inner path they followed, with their teachings to guide and protect you along the way.
Not long into studying with Swami Nirmalananda, I began to understand that there is an inner map. She has already traversed it; she knows what’s around the next corner. She knows the rocky ground that you currently may be picking your way across. And she can assure you that an incredible vista is about to open up. Her teachings guide you and protect you along the way.
Wherever you are on the map, there are amazing inner stages yet to come. Whatever experiences are currently blossoming forth within you, there’s more — more than you can currently imagine. That is because your mind cannot fully imagine the “more” of who you really are. It is when you go beyond your mind that you discover your own Divinity. That is the goal and purpose of Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation: for you to have the experiential knowing (vidya) of your own Divinity (svaroopa). Awakening you to that inner knowing is the specialty of this lineage of Gurus.
Swami Nirmalananda has the calling, the capacity and the mastery to awaken you to your Divinity. She lights the flame of your enlightenment within you, so that you realize who you are. You will know that you are concentrated Consciousness — distilled Divinity. You are the One Eternal Reality that is the Source of unending joy, peace, and bliss, manifesting the universe and everything in it, including you. You have always been Divine, you have never not been Divine. You just don’t know it all the time.
Once you have received the inner awakening, called Shaktipat, every time you meditate, you experience your Divinity. Your mind and senses are increasingly saturated in your own Divine Essence. The light and bliss of your own being shine into and through you, more and more. Your Divinity is not only in you, it is you, and everything else. And when you go inside, you know this, in progressively deepening stages. The sutra is saying that it keeps getting better. I can vouch for it from my own experience, it keeps getting better. How amazing, how wonderful! But don’t take my word for it. Have the experience yourself.
Even though Krishna returned from Hastinapura in haste due to Satrajit’s death, he never stopped fulfilling his duties to the Kuru family. Knowing in his heart that the Kuru cousins were safe, still he sent Uddhava to find them and report back to him.
So, who are these cousins of Krishna from the Kuru family?
The above question takes us into the epic of Mahabharata! They were the Pandavas of the Lunar Dynasty. We have to go back a few generations to start the story of the Pandavas. Let’s begin with the name of the epic, “Mahabharata.” While it is a long story, we will look at a concise version of it.
There once lived a king of the Lunar Dynasty, named Dushyanta. He had a great passion for hunting. On one of his hunting trips in the jungle, he found Shakuntala, the daughter of Menaka, a celestial nymph of Lord Indra’s court and the great sage Vishwamitra. It is said that Lord Indra himself, frightened by Vishwamitra’s yogic powers and fearful of losing his position as Lord of the devas, sent Menaka from heaven to earth to lure Vishwamitra and disturb his intense meditation. Menaka successfully inflamed Vishwamitra’s lust and passion; she succeeded in breaking his meditation.
However, she genuinely fell in love with him and had a baby girl. The baby girl born to them was left at Rishi Kanva’s ashram with both the parents departing to follow their own pursuits. Rishi Kanva found the baby surrounded by shakunta birds, so he named her Shakuntala. Thus Shakuntala became the foster-daughter of Rishi Kanva.
Mesmerized by her beauty, Dushyanta married Shakuntala in a Gandarva marriage (love marriage with no rituals or witnesses), promising to return for her even though being with her in the jungle for only a few days. He gave his royal ring, embossed with his name, as a token of love. Shakuntala anxiously waited for Dushyanta, losing herself in thoughts of him.
One day Sage Durvasa, known for his fiery temper, visited Rishi Kanva. However, Shakuntala was inattentive to Durvasa as she was thinking about Dushyanta. Angered, Durvasa cursed that the person of whom she was thinking would forget her. Shakuntala pleaded with Durvasa, but he said he couldn’t take the curse back, but that she could show Dushyanta something he had given her, such as the ring, and he would be freed from the curse.
Due to the curse, Dushyanta forgot Shakuntala. He never came back for her. Desperate, Shakuntala went to Dushyanta’s kingdom. On the way, she lost the ring in the river. A fish swallowed it and swami away. As Shakuntala didn’t have the ring to bring Dushyanta out of the curse, he didn’t recognize her. Shakuntala had to return to the forest and remain deserted by Dushyanta.
In time, Shakuntala gave birth to a baby boy. Shakuntala’s son was brave and courageous. His name was Bharata. From an early age, he played with lions, tigers, elephants and other wild animals. It is told that he opened a lion’s mouth with his bare hands to count the number of teeth it had. Shakuntala, watching her son, was sure that he would become a great courageous leader one day.
A few years later, a fisherman found the royal ring in a fish in his catch. He took it to Dushyanta, as his name was on it. Upon seeing the ring, the curse was lifted. Dushyanta remembered Shakuntala and rushed to the jungle to find her. Arriving at Rishi Kanva’s Ashram, he found Bharata playing with the wild animals like toys. He approached the little boy, asking who he was? The little boy replied that he was Bharata, the son of the great king Dushyanta and Shakuntala. Astonished by this answer, Dushyanta sadly realized his error of leaving Shakuntala. He hugged his son with great love and affection. He took Shakuntala and Bharata back to the palace. Succeeding his father, Bharata became the king and soon an Emperor. He became the greatest of all the kings, a universal emperor. India’s original name came from him, “Bharat” or “Bharatavarsha,” before the European invasion. Hence we see the name, “Mahabharata,” which is Maha + Bharata, meaning Great Bharata.
A number of descendants in Bharata’s line ruled Bharatavarsha. In that line, King Hasti and his grandson King Kuru, were very popular. Hastinapura was named after King Hasti and the Kuru family got the name after King Kuru. Kuru’s son was Pratipa, whose son was Shantanu. The saga of Mahabharata formally begins with the rule of King Shantanu, known for his valor and wisdom.
King Pratipa had three sons; Shantanu was the youngest. King Pratipa’s eldest son, Devapi, had leprosy and therefore gave up his inheritance to the throne and became a hermit. The second son, Bahlika, abandoned Hastinapura, and lived with his uncle in Balkh, later inheriting his kingdom. Thus, Shantanu was crowned as the king of Hastinapura. He was young when crowned because his father had him later in life.
Shantanu was a benevolent and wise ruler, very much liked by the people of his nation. One day, the young king Shantanu was walking along the river Ganga, and saw a beautiful young lady. She walking on the water as though she was walking on the ground, then came ashore and continued to walk on the riverbank. He was mesmerized and fell in love with her in an instant. He told the beautiful lady that he had lost his heart to her, that he is the king of Hastinapura who wants to marry her. He would make her the queen of Hastinapura. She said she would accept his proposal under two conditions: 1) he must never ask her about who she is or where she came from, and 2) he should never interfere in what she does. Continuing, she told him that if he violated either of these conditions, she will leave him immediately.
The conditions stunned Shantanu; they would never be agreeable to a king. But, for the love stricken Shantanu, it was unthinkable to refuse any of her demands, in order to have her hand. He accepted both conditions immediately. The beauty married Shantanu under the Gandarva marriage rites (love marriage with no rituals or witnesses) on the spot.
King Shantanu left his ministers to take care of the kingdom and completely concentrated only on his wife. He called her “Ganga,” as he had found her near the river Ganga. Shantanu’s life went smoothly and happily for some time. In due course, Ganga gave birth to a lovely baby boy. Shantanu was overjoyed to hear the news and rushed to his wife’s quarters. The queen was silently taking the newborn towards the river Ganga, where Shantanu had met her for the first time. Shantanu was puzzled but followed her quietly. When she arrived at the riverbank, she turned and smiled at Shantanu, then put the newborn into the river, letting the currents wash the baby away. She started walking back to the palace with satisfaction in her face. Shantanu was speechless, unable to believe what he had seen the love of his life do to their child. He wanted to ask her, why she did it, but remembered the conditions and kept quiet.
A few weeks passed, then Shantanu came to know that Ganga was pregnant again. His sadness about the earlier son faded away. He was eagerly awaiting the birth of his child. The day came and he was blessed with another son. To his astonishment, Ganga marched with the baby in her arms towards the river again. It was the same fate for the second son as the earlier one. Shantanu was in great grief, but he could not say or do anything as he was bound by his promise.
Ganga did the same thing over and over again, giving Shantanu’s sons to the river. After she drowned the seventh son, Shantanu was lost in deep thought all the time. Life was very painful for him. He couldn’t tolerate what Ganga was doing, but his love for her prevented him from saying anything as he didn’t want to lose her.
Running out of patience, Shantanu decided to stop the drowning of the eighth child. The time came. His eighth son was born. As usual, the queen was off to the river. When she was about to drop the baby into the river, Shantanu shouted “Stop! You are murdering my eighth son, and I can’t allow it to happen. Are you here to put an end to my kingdom and my dynasty? Why, my love?”
The queen looked at Shantanu. She said “Dear King, I am Ganga, the river itself, who came from the heavens. Now that you have questioned me, you have broken your promise. As for the conditions, I will not be able to stay with you any longer. But before I leave, I will reveal the entire secret of what has happened here.” She continued, “The children born to you were the eight Vasus, the eight elemental attendants of Indra, representing the aspects of nature. Once, sage Vasishta got angry with them as they stole his pet cow Nandini. He cursed them to be born as humans and undergo mental embarrassments. Hearing this curse, seven of them implored the sage to be excused, but the eighth stood without any remorse. Vasishta compassionately amended his curse for the first seven, so they would as soon as they are born on earth, to be able to return to Indra’s heaven. But the eighth would have a very long miserable life due to mental suffering. The eight Vasus came to me, asking me to be their mother on earth. To fulfill their wish, I had to take a human form and free them from their curse. I liberated the first seven. My job is done here. I will take your eighth son with me, to teach him to be potent enough to withstand what this world is going to throw at him, mentally and physically. When he grows up to an age, studying everything he needs to know, I will come back and return him to you.” Saying this, hugging her baby, she flashed into the sky.