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.
I delight in stopping at our local gas station and convenience store. While the location is convenient, it’s the people that make the difference. One of the cashiers recognizes me. She calls me “Dear.” We chit-chat and exchange smiles. Simple, yet caring and meaningful.
In contrast, I tried to have a conversation with ChatGPT, the newest artificial intelligence (AI) buzz. “Dear ChatGPT, how are you today?” I asked.
It replied, “As an AI language model, I don’t have personal feelings or emotions…” There was no eye contact. No smiles. No connection. I went on to ask ChatGPT a variety of questions and got lots of interesting facts. It is impressive technology. But it does not compare to my exchange with the cashier.
Human relationships are important. “Namaste,” a customary greeting in India, illuminates the significance of human relationships:
I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells.
I honor the place in you in which is love, truth, light and peace.
When you are in that place in you & I am in that place in me, we are one.
(attributed to Ram Dass)
When you truly greet someone, you see and honor the One Divine Reality that is being them. It is the same Divine Reality that is being you and everyone. The One Divine Reality is also the source of the whole universe. Love, truth, light and peace arise from this One Divine Reality. When you truly greet someone, it is the Divine Reality seeing and honoring the same Divine Reality in the other.
The One Divine Reality has become everyone and everything. You can see and honor the One Divine Reality in all its manifestations. As I write this blog, the Ashram cat jumps onto my lap asking for food and cuddles. While I see her as the one Divine Reality being a cat, she sees me as a source of food and pets. It’s a delightful exchange, but it’s not as meaningful as with humans. That’s because we humans have the capacity to know our own Divine Reality. Therefore, when humans see each other, there is a capacity and depth of seeing that is deeper. So human relationships are important to being human.
While relationships are important, they are also challenging. When your dear ones are at their best, their one Divine Reality shines through their eyes, words and deeds. They are so loveable. But your dear ones aren’t always at their best. When they are having a bad day, the One Divine Reality isn’t shining through as much. Instead of being bathed in the rays of Divine Reality pouring through them, they are like a dark stormy cloud casting shadows. You respond to their clouds and even forget your own light. Then the two of you are lost in the shadows. Relationships can be difficult.
Spiritual seekers have taken different approaches in dealing with the trickiness of human relationships. A popular approach is to avoid human relationships. Throughout time and across cultures, people have left relationships to live in solitude in the name of their spiritual search. Saint Benedictine left Rome because he was disturbed by the immorality of the people. He lived as a hermit in a cave for three years. Similarly, India has a strong tradition of yogis living in the caves of the Himalayas. These yogis left relationships behind to avoid their distraction and impact.
In contrast, other spiritual traditions make relationships the keystone. Some orders of nuns marry Jesus as part of their vows. Bhakti yogis in India focus their practice on their love for God, typically Krishna as an incarnation of God. Seekers on these paths pour their human capacity for relationship towards God. God purifies and expands this human capacity.
Kashmir Shaivism is founded on a living human relationship. It is centered on the Guru-Disciple relationship. The Guru is one who abides in their own Divine Reality and has the duty to uplift others. They don’t have any clouds casting shadows on their Divine Reality. Instead, they shine brightly all the time. When a Guru greets you, they only see your Divine Reality. This is the blessing of the Guru-Disciple relationship.
One of the rituals that focuses on this divine sighting is called darshan. The disciple comes up to the Guru, typically bows, and then has a moment with the Guru. I have done this ritual with my Guru, Gurudevi Nirmalananda, hundreds of times.
Recently, I had the opportunity for darshan after a deep meditation. I felt grounded and expanded in my Divine Reality. When I bowed and came up, Gurudevi was looking at me. I could tell that she was seeing something more in me than I was experiencing. She sees my Divinity even when I can’t. Yet by seeing her seeing me, I knew there was more to me. And it felt magnetic. Based in her Divine Reality, Gurudevi was drawing out the same One Divine Reality in me.
Kashmir Shaivism also emphasizes that you are in a relationship with a living Guru. You can have relationships with the past Gurus, similar to how the nuns marry Jesus and bhaktis devote their life to Krishna. But the living Guru talks back. The living Guru gives you practices. The living Guru incorporates the reality of your physical form and senses. The living Guru gives you a full bodied, multidimensional relationship. In this way, all levels of your being may be purified by the light of the Divine Reality that shines from them.
The goal of the Guru relationship is for you to know your own Divine Reality. The Guru sees the Divine Reality in you. The Guru shines their Divine Reality fully to you. You follow the Guru’s directions and practices to cooperate in the process. Then you come to know your own Divine Reality all the time. Then you shine fully. You then bring your Divine light into your relationships. You don’t need your loved ones to shine to make them loveable. Instead, you shine. You see and honor the Divine Reality in them.
Sage Brihadvasa came to visit the Pandavas in the forest. The sage narrated the story of King Nala of Nishadha for Yudhishthira to know that times will change.
Once there lived a mighty king named Nala who ruled the kingdom of Nishadha. He was very generous and noble. He was not only brave but also very handsome, and was loved by all his citizens. Nala was a gifted charioteer and also was known for his culinary expertise. Still today in India, in the Tamil language, a dish well cooked, is called “Nalapakam,” meaning a dish as delicious as that prepared by Nala.
One day while Nala was wandering alone, he came across a lake with some beautiful swans. Especially one of them really caught his attention. He slowly crept forward and caught the swan. The bird cried out in pain while the other swans waited helplessly. Nala spoke softly to the swan assuring it that he wouldn’t harm it and brought it to his palace.
To free itself, the Swan told him about Damayanti, the charming daughter of King Bheema of Vidarbha kingdom. It promised Nala that it would sing the praises of Nala to Damayanti if he would free itself. Nala was delighted hearing this.
He told the swan that he had once been told about Damayanti by someone else. Ever since hearing about her, he had fallen in love with her without even seeing her. Nala said that he had decided to marry her and only her. Damayanti was indeed a very beautiful princess, and it is said that even the Devas, the celestial beings, wanted to marry her.
Nala immediately freed the bird and requested it to do what it had promised him. The swan flew away into the sky and reached Vidarbha kingdom. Upon entering the royal garden, it started to recite Nala’s name. It certainly caught Damayanti’s attention. She wanted to have the swan for herself. She slowly went down to catch the swan. It wasn’t easy to catch it, but at last she managed to grab the swan.
Out of curiosity, Damayanti asked the swan about the name Nala that it was repeating. The swan happily started telling praises of Nala. Hearing this Damayanti fell in love with Nala as much as he was in love with her. She decided to marry Nala, none but him.
The swan thus finished its job successfully and returned to Nala. Nala was thrilled to hear the news about Damayanti’s love towards him and released the swan back to its family, keeping his own promise.
When the time for Damayanti’s swayamvara came, Nala was invited, as were many other kings and princes. The hall was not only full of mighty kings and princes from all over the earth, but also with celestial beings. They were all anxiously waiting to be selected by Damayanti. But Damayanti’s eyes were fixed on one man, Nala himself. She garlanded him at the ceremony, and they were happily married in front of all the guests with their blessings.
When the celestial being Kali, the personification of Kali Yuga, heard about Damayanti disregarding the Devas and choosing a mortal man, he got very angry. He vowed to bring down the happy life of Damayanti with Nala. But it wasn’t easy because Nala was following the path of righteousness. It is said that it took 12 years for Kali to find fault and divert Nala from the righteous path.
Being influenced by Kali, Nala played a game of dice with his cousin-brother Pushkara, gambling away his wealth and kingdom to him. As Nala lost everything in gambling, he and Damayanti sent their children to her parents. They went to the forest and wandered aimlessly.
As they underwent much suffering, Nala was worried about Damayanti. He didn’t want her to suffer any longer for his mistake. He tried his best to convince her to go to her father’s kingdom, showing her the way. But she refused to leave Nala as she said that the husband needs the wife even more in adversity, therefore she will remain with Nala. Overpowered by grief, seeing his wife suffering, he then deserted Damayanti so that she would be forced to return to her father’s kingdom.
After leaving his wife with a heavy heart, he walked a long distance purposelessly in the forest came across a devastating fire. When he was turning away from it, all of a sudden, he heard a cry for help. There, he saw the Serpent God, Karkotaka, caught on fire. Nala jumped right into the fire and saved the serpent’s life.
As requested by Nala, as a favor to him, Karkotaka changed Nala into an ugly dwarf so that he wouldn’t be recognized by others. Karkotaka also suggested that Nala should go to the kingdom of Ayodhya and serve king Rituparna. There he could learn the game of dice, as Rituparna was the best there was in the game.
Karkotaka, then gifted Nala a magic cloth which would restore his original form back when he desired. Taking his advice, Nala went to King Rituparna, taking the name of Bahuka and served him as both charioteer and cook.
Meanwhile waking up alone in the forest, not knowing what had happened to Nala, Damayanti wept and wandered in the forest crying out for Nala. She sobbed for a while, coming to the conclusion that he left her deliberately. She searched for Nala everywhere, asking every animal and bird about him.
When she was grabbed by a deadly python, a hunter saved her. The hunter desired to marry her for her beauty. Taking advantage of her loneliness, he made his mind known to her. He was burnt to ashes by her vow of chastity when he tried to force her into it.
While she was roaming in the forest, she met some great saints. They received her with kindness and consoled her that she would be reunited with her husband after some time. After these blessings Damayanti met a group of traders who were on their way to the kingdom of Chedi. They invited her to join them. After travelling for many days, they camped at a lakeside. At midnight, elephant herds came, destroying all that they carried. She was shocked at the misfortunes striking at her one after another.
After a long journey she was among the survivors who reached the kingdom of Chedi. There, she met Queen Bhanumati. As she didn’t want to reveal her true identity to the queen, she told her that she had been abandoned by her husband, who was very noble but made a big mistake when gambling, playing a game of dice. The queen received her with kindness and asked her to stay. Damayanti agreed and stayed with her, serving her as a royal maid.
Meanwhile, the king of the Vidarbha kingdom searched for his daughter everywhere. He sent people all around to find her. One day a minister of Vidarbha came to Chedi. He recognized Queen Damayanti, assisting Queen Bhanumati as a royal maid. The minister was happy to find her there as he had been searching for her for a long time.
Damayanti then found out that she had been staying with her aunt all along. She happily returned to Vidarbha to her father’s kingdom and saw her children who had grown up fast. They reminded her of Nala, which made her miss Nala even more. Her father promised to find Nala and sent out his ministers in search of him.
When one of the ministers arrived at the court of King Rituparna, Bahuka caught the minister’s attention. Even though he didn’t look like Nala, he resembled him so much in many ways, especially his charioting skills and culinary skills.
He returned to his kingdom and told what he had observed in King Rituparna’s kingdom to Damayanti. She too was convinced that it was Nala. Soon after, a plan was made to bring Nala to Vidarbha. Damayanti, with the help of her father, planned to hold a fake second swayamvara, knowing Nala would somehow show up. They announced that Damayanti has agreed to remarry. The invitation was sent to Ayodhya inviting King Rituparna. He was informed only the day before the fake swayamvara.
As there was not enough time to travel, the king was worried about missing the ceremony. Hearing this, Nala assured the king that he would take him there in time to attend the ceremony. The king agreed and Nala drove the chariot. The horses flew in the air, so they reached the city within a day. But both of them were surprised because there weren’t any festivities. They were told that, as it’s the second marriage, they were keeping things quiet.
Reaching the palace Nala in the form of Bahuka, recognized his children playing outside at the terrace. He ran towards them and hugged them tightly. Observing this from her palace Damayanti rushed down and said to Bahuka, “I know it is you, Nala, I am sure of it. I am so pleased to see you. Thank you for coming.”
Nala was surprised at this and asked how she knew that it was him. He also added a second question without a pause, with a sad voice asking if she was going to marry again. Damayanti with a smile instantly said, “No, Nala. It was all a trick to get you to come here. Who else but you could travel such a long distance in a day?”
Hearing this, Nala was overjoyed. He put on his magical cloth, which transformed him to his true form. All were happy to see Nala, Damayanti and their children reunited again. But now Nala had to regain his kingdom from his cousin Pushkara. As Nala had learned Rituparna’s skills at dice and numbers, in exchange for his skill as a charioteer, he was ready to meet his cousin once more.
After returning to his kingdom, Nala challenged Pushkara for a rematch of the game of dice. Nala staked all the wealth he had earned from his father-in-law, himself and his wife for the Nishadha kingdom. Pushkara was driven by the desire to gain the beautiful Damayanti. Sure of his own success, he accepted the rematch in dice.
Nala, after many years of hardship, during which he never deviated from the path of righteousness, had overcome the influence of Kali. He regained his kingdom by defeating Pushkara in the rematch. Pushkara lost everything and became a slave. But Nala forgave him for what he had done and gave him his palace back. Nala and Damayanti were reunited with their citizens and lived happily thereafter.
It is said that Kali offered Nala a boon when he left him. Nala sought the boon that whoever read his story would not be unduly affected by the malefic effects of Kali. Sage Brihadvasa, continued and said, “Now that you have listened to the story of Nala and Damayanti, you will be free of the ill effects of Kali, and the future will be bright for you and your family.”
As a teenager in the Eighties, I loved when Prince sang, “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called life.” At least, that’s what I thought he sang. The lyrics are actually “to get through this thing called life.” I’ve had it wrong all this time!
I think I misheard the lyrics because I actually celebrate this thing called life. Sure, at times I’ve felt like life was something to get through. There’s been pain and the uncertainty of hard times. But alongside that, I’ve had glimpses of the sacredness of life. Moments of perceiving how being a human being is a precious opportunity. And then I met my Guru. She confirmed the reality of those glorious glimpses. She teaches that life is Divine:
What seems to be only a mundane world is Divinely designed to engage you fully. Each and every person, critter and object is made of the One Divine Energy, shakti, coalescing into a separate and fascinating form. When you step into the marvel, the awe and majesty of this amazing creation, you live in the bliss of Consciousness
The world is made of Divinity. Well before modern day physics, yogis knew that everything is made of energy. Named shakti, this energy is not an inert, lifeless substance. Shakti willingly, knowingly, blissfully chooses to be the dance of Existence. More than merely conscious, she is Consciousness, concentrating into everything. Every thing on this planet, every thing in the universe, every thing that exists. Including you.
You might think, “Well, okay, everything is made of Consciousness. But not me.” What are you made of, Swiss cheese? Oh, Swiss cheese is made of Consciousness, too. If everything that exists is made of the same substance, then that has to include you. Your body is made of consciousness-concentrate. Every cell is distilled Divinity.
It’s like what Salinger’s short story character Teddy McArdle says:
I was six when I saw that everything was God, and my hair stood up, and all. It was on a Sunday, I remember. My sister was a tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.
— J.D. Salinger, “Teddy,” Nine Stories, 1953
Do you know what he means? As a human being, you have the unique capacity to know that everything is God, like Teddy did when he was six. You’re not just a part of God, like you, Teddy, his sister and the milk are pieces of a God-puzzle. All the pieces together make up the whole.
It’s more like you are a drop of water When you drop into the ocean, kerplunk! You merge with it. Then, which part is the ocean and which part is the drop? You’re the whole ocean. Your Self = God = Consciousness = the One Divine Reality. That is who you are.
So, how come you don’t know that’s who you are? You do know, sometimes. You get glimpses, like I did. But it’s not enough. You want more. To know your Divinity all the time, your capacity has to be activated.
Gurudevi can do that for you with an initiation called Shaktipat. She is a Shaktipat Master, empowered and authorized by her lineage. She doesn’t just tell you that you are Divine; she gives you the experience. And she teaches you to meditate, so you can do your part.
Every time you meditate with the lineage mantra, you immerse your mind in your Self. Your mind needs the help, because it is used to focusing on the mundane instead of the Divine. And it convinces you that you are small, separate, unworthy and unlovable.
But when you meditate, you drench your mind in your Divinity. Over time, your mind becomes less capable of blocking your bliss. So you know the marvel, awe and majesty of this thing we call life. We each have our role. And we each are the whole — the whole of Divinity. Outside and inside, there’s only One. You find the One inside when you meditate. Gurudevi will show you how.
Sage Vyasa visited the Pandavas in the forest, gave his support and offered great wisdom. He warned them to prepare themselves for a dreadful but a great war between their cousins, the Kauravas, and themselves.
He advised Yudhishthira to do penance with his brothers and wife and acquire many divine weapons. He then directed Arjuna to go to Mount Kailasa to do penance, to please Lord Shiva, to obtain a mighty weapon as a blessing.
Following Sage Vyasa’s advice, Arjuna at once got ready to depart. Draupadi wished him good fortune. Her blessing words were felt as his mother’s wishes for him to fulfill what he was born for. Draupadi also reminded how all their lives were dependent on his mission. She prayed to Gods and other divine powers for his success.
After taking leave from his brothers and Draupadi, Arjuna set out for the Himalayas. He reached the foothills in no time, with the knowledge he had acquired and been blessed with. He crossed the Gandhamardan range and reached Indrakeela Mountain. There he met an elderly sage who asked, “Who are you? Why are you wearing armor and holding weapons like a warrior, here in a place where sages who gave up everything and have given themselves to God live? War and violence have no place here.” He started laughing while saying this and advised Arjuna to leave his weapons behind.
Arjuna introduced himself as the son of late King Pandu of Hastinapura and refused to obey the sage. As Arjuna was hesitant to leave his weapons, the Sage revealed himself to be Indra, King of the Gods. He blessed Arjuna, saying he just came to meet him and offered him a boon. He also suggested that it was of no use to acquire weapons, but instead to ask for wealth and pleasure.
Arjuna said that he is seeking only divine weapons, as he had left his brothers and wife in the forest. Indra asked Arjuna to worship the Lord of Lords, Shiva, and then to return to him for all further knowledge of divine weapons.
Arjuna went to Mount Kailasa and began meditating in Lord Shiva’s name. Lord Shiva recognized Arjuna and knew the purpose for which he was there. Seeing Arjuna’s intense austerities, Lord Shiva decided to test his devotion before granting his wish. Along with his wife Parvati, Shiva came to the forest, dressed as hunters where Arjuna was doing his penance.
When they reached there, they saw a wild boar charging at Arjuna. This wild boar was a demon called Mukasura, sent by Duryodhana to kill Arjuna. Hearing the wild boar’s grunts disturbed Arjuna’s meditation. He opened his eyes and charged the wild boar immediately with his bow.
Simultaneously the visiting hunter shot at the wild boar. The two arrows pierced the boar at the same time. As Arjuna got closer to his kill, he found another arrow. Arjuna was furious about this incident. Then he saw the hunter who emerged from the trees. Arjuna asked the hunter who he was and why he was in this forest with a woman?
The hunter replied. saying that the forest belonged to him and his clan. He claimed the wild boar as his kill. Arjuna didn’t agree that it was the hunter who killed the boar, but said that he definitely can take the meat. The hunter refused to take anything that belonged to someone else, arguing that it was his kill.
Unable to come to a conclusion about who killed the boar, they decided to settle it with a challenge. The fight between them went on for a long time. Arjuna found it surprisingly hard to beat his opponent. He used all his skills and weapons. He ended up losing his Gandiva when the hunter simply snatched it away.
At last, they ended up fighting each other without any weapons. Arjuna was unable to beat the hunter in that duel as well. Arjuna was so ashamed, as he had never lost a single challenge before. When he realized he could not defeat his opponent, he decided to seek divine intervention.
He made a Shivalinga, placed a garland on it and prayed to Lord Shiva. To his amazement, he saw the hunter wearing the garland he’d offered to his Shivalinga. Thus he realized that the hunter was none other than Lord Shiva himself. He sat at the hunter’s feet with folded hands and asked for forgiveness.
Lord Shiva, pleased with Arjuna’s devotion and valor, appeared in his true form. He gave the Gandiva bow back and blessed Arjuna with the mightiest weapon “Pashupata-astra.” He gave a warning along with the weapon, saying, “Never use it unmindfully. Use it only when you really need it, as it has the power to destroy the universe.” He then asked Arjuna to visit Indra.
Arjuna stood there with delight, especially after being blessed by Lord Shiva along with Parvati. He felt fully contented and in bliss. All the Gods appeared, blessing Arjuna and granting him their own special divine weapons. Indra presented him his divine weapon “Vajra-yudha.” Arjuna thanked them all and offered his respect to them humbly with folded hands.
Indra brought down one of his special chariots to escort Arjuna to Amaravati, his abode in heavens. Indra gave a grand welcome to his earthly son, asking him to stay in Amaravati for five years to learn to use all the celestial weapons he had acquired. Arjuna agreed, but with one condition, that his brothers and Draupadi be informed of his wellbeing and his extended stay in Amaravati. Indra immediately called upon Rishi Lomasa and requested him to convey the message to the other four Pandava brothers and to Draupadi on earth.
Arjuna was delighted to see the grandeur of Amaravati, the beautiful gardens, the celestial nymphs and their divine dances. He not only enjoyed hearing the music of the Gandharvas but also learned the art of music, musical instruments and dancing from Chitrasena, chief of Gandharvas.
During Arjuna’s stay in Amaravati, Urvashi, one of the most beautiful celestial nymphs, had fallen in love with him. But Arjuna could only see her as a mother, even though she was blessed to stay young forever. He gave her the respect that he would give his own mother. Wishing for his love, Urvashi tried her level best to attract Arjuna by captivating gestures and postures. Arjuna with his iron will was quite unshakable. This offended Urvashi.
Rejecting her efforts to win his love made her so angry, she cursed him. As he could not return her love, thus disappointing her, she cursed that he would turn into an eunuch. Immediately regretting her hasty words and impressed with his self-controlled behavior, she modified her curse, saying that it would be effective for only one year, whenever he wished for it.
Her curse was a boon which would help Arjuna successfully go through the period of incognito, so he could be unrecognized. Arjuna bowed to her with gratitude. Indra was very proud of Arjuna for his steadiness in his state.
In the forest after Arjuna’s departure, the Pandavas were a bit low in their sprit. All of them loved him dearly, so they really missed him. He was the favorite brother. They kept thinking about his safety and at times feared about losing him. Yudhishthira often blamed himself for creating distress for all his brothers and Draupadi, which buried him in sorrow.
His brothers and Draupadi would cheer Yudhishthira up by praising Arjuna’s bravery and wisdom. Bhima and Draupadi continued their constant badgering about fighting to get their kingdom back, as they both believed it to be the right thing that kshatriyas would do.
One day, as the two brothers Yudhishthira and Bhima were arguing, Sage Brihadvasa came to visit them. The Pandava brothers and Draupadi welcomed him, duly paying their respects. They took care of his needs and gave him a comfortable seat.
Yudhishthira lamented to the sage in a distressed tone, saying, “Oh Sage, the cheaters invited us to play the dice game and have taken all our wealth and kingdom. Due to this, my brothers, the incomparable warriors, and my dear wife are in exile in the forest. My brother Arjuna, who went to acquire divine weapons, hasn’t returned for a very long time. We feel lifeless without him. Could you kindly tell us if our dear brother would return? When will we see him? We are in great grief. No one would have ever suffered the way I am suffering now. I am the most unfortunate and unhappiest man of all.”
Sage Brihadvasa spoke kindly to Yudhishthira, identifying his self-pity. He said, “Don’t dwell in grief. Arjuna will return after receiving the divine weapons and blessings. You will defeat your enemies. You said there is no other man as unfortunate, who has suffered like you. That is not correct. There once lived a king who was more unfortunate and his sufferings were far greater than you could ever imagine. All that was due to a very small negligence. The result of this, he not only lost his kingdom but also his senses, mind and experienced hardships and embarrassment in life. Let me tell you his story.”
Thus, Sage Brihadvasa started narrating to them the mind-blowing and heart-wrenching story of King Nala of Nishada.
Life is so precious. I think we often forget that our years are numbered. If you were to leave tomorrow, would you be satisfied with your life?
I often wondered this, especially before yoga. That made me do more. Get a degree. Get a new job. Travel here. Go there. My purpose of life always seemed a little bit beyond my grasp. I would wonder, “What is life all about?” Is it about sleeping, eating, working, unwinding and doing it all again? This felt to me like sleepwalking through life.
There once was a crow king and an owl king. They both lived in their respective parts of the forest with their family and friends. One day the two kings met up. The crow king had been pondering a question for some time. He asked the owl king, “Why do you work at night?” The owl, surprised, responded, “Oh brother, it is not I that works at night, it is you that works at night!”
The crow was taken aback. “This owl clearly is deluded,” he thought. He shared this sentiment with the owl which sparked a long and heated debate. The debate went on all through the day and into the night. As the sky grew darker and darker, the owl pointed up and said “Ah, crow, now it is day!” The crow exclaimed, “What are you talking about — look how dark it is, clearly it is night!” Now they really started to fight.
A swan came by, in the midst of their arguing, and said, “Stop your fighting. You are both right. What is day for a crow is night for an owl. And what is day for an owl is night for a crow.”
This story has a mystical meaning. Most people live like the owl, caught up in the world and unaware of the deeper dimensions of their own being. This lack of awareness is like night to a Self-Realized Being. Such a one lives in the light of their own Divine Essence. Yet the light they live in is so bright, it blinds one who does not know.
Spiritual practice is all about turning your night into day. It is about turning your not knowing into knowing. This is explained in Katha Upanishad 1.3.14:
Approach the great beings and understand the Truth.
The path is like the sharp edge of a razor,
Difficult to tread and difficult to cross.
(Translation by Swami Nirmalananda)
This sutra calls you to action: “Arise, awake!” What are you doing with your life? Sure, you can get a BA, an MA, a Ph.D. You can get your dream job, your dream house, your dream family.
Yet, what do you have if you do not know who you are? Yoga says your ultimate purpose is to know your own Divine Essence. Your Essence is the substratum of this entire universe, while at the same time completely and individually you. There is more to you than you think. Arise! Wake up to who you truly are.
How do you do this? “Approach the great beings and understand the Truth.” You go to one who knows. Just like anything else in your life, you need a teacher. In yoga, the one that guides your way on the path is called the Guru. A qualified Guru is one who lives in the knowing and being of their own Divine Essence AND can show you the way.
This is very important because the spiritual path is as sharp as a razor’s edge. It is difficult to tread and hard to cross. The spiritual path is as treacherous as climbing the steepest mountain on the narrowest trail. Without a guide, you are vulnerable to slipping, falling, getting lost and ultimately not arriving at your destination.
This is why the Guru is so important. The Guru saves you from the traps along the path. They even save you from the traps you lay down for yourself. Plus, a Shaktipat Guru, like Gurudevi Nirmalananda, can do even more. In addition to guiding you, she puts rocket fuel in your tank. You are sped through the process at lightspeed!
You have the unique opportunity to be Self-Realized in this lifetime. Yet, how far will you go? The answer is up to you. While the Guru shows you the way and fuels your progress, you must take the steps yourself. So what will it be? Are you ready to wake up?
Consciousness willingly takes on contraction, in order to become both the universe and the individuals, who have the universe as their bodies in a contracted form. – Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda
Before yoga, I looked for God outside. God was up there somewhere. My mind would imagine a white bearded guy up in the sky. Some people see God as the formless. Others see God in nature: in the sky, the trees, the majesty of the mountains, etc.
Yoga agrees that God can be experienced when you look outside. This is because the One Divine Reality manifested all things and becomes all things. Yet this sutra also says more.
The One Divine Reality, called “Consciousness” in this sutra, has chosen to become everything in this universe, including you. God has become you and me. Now, consider which is closer, God on the outside or God on the inside? This is why yoga gives you practices for looking inside — particularly meditation.
“Self” is the word yoga uses for the One Divine Reality when found inside. Meditation, especially Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation, gives you deep and profound experiences of your own Self. God has not only become me, but God is also being me. God is being you. This is a pretty radical statement.
At first, I didn’t take this teaching personally. Yet I finally got it when I heard my Guru — Gurudevi — explain it. She said, “Seeing your own inner Self is more tangible than the sky.” When I heard those words, God crystalized into being me. In my physical body, with my mind, through all the levels of my own being, I experienced that I am God. I am the One Divine Reality whether looking outside or inside. There was a joy, an aliveness, a delight in being me!
This is the foundation of all the yoga practices and teachings: God is being you. Where is God? Right here! You are a physical tangible expression of the One Divine Reality. Additionally, your mind is a contracted form of the One Divine Reality. God is being you.
To fully understand this radical statement, you have to personalize it. Say it out loud, or even whisper to yourself, “I am a physical, tangible expression of the One Divine Reality.”
God wants to be you. God, the Self, is willingly choosing to be you with all your quirks and idiosyncrasies. God delights in being you. All you ever wanted was to be more you. This is what yoga gives you. Yoga gives you the knowing and the experience that God is being you. It is time to know that you are truly Divine.
How do you come to know?
Do more Satsangs with Gurudevi. She offers them every Sunday and Wednesday online or in person. Gurudevi’s teachings and presence propel you inward to experience yoga’s profound, mystical truth that you are the Self.
Do more meditation. Meditate every day. For support in making your daily meditation consistent, join our online Meditation Club. Gurudevi will make meditation deep and easy for you.