Monthly Archives: August 2018

Vamana: Dwarf Avatar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

From the time of the Churning of the Ocean of the Milk, the Devas and Asuras have been in turmoil, because the Asuras had to forego the Amrita due to their attempt to steal all of it.  Victory alternated from one to the other.  The defeated party then declared war at a favorable time later.  The continuous hatred between the Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons) affected all three worlds, due to the suffering and death of war as well as the fear of war.

After the successful reign of Prahlad, his son Virochana became the king of Asuras. Virochana’s son Mahabali (Bali) often played on the lap of his grandfather, Prahlad.  Bali became a great leader who brought peace to his land.  Like Prahlad, Bali was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu.  Bali learned the Vedas from his grandfather and later from his Guru, Sukracharyara, the Great Guru of the Asuras.

The Asuras became bold and courageous with Bali as their king.  Many heroes and scholars, who had previously taken shelter elsewhere, now rallied together under the Bali’s leadership.  Bali appointed scholars and wise men as officers in his administration.  Sukracharyara, the renowned wise ascetic, continued as their Guru, also serving as chief priest and chief adviser to the king.

Bali set out on an adventure of world conquests with his ministers and generals at the head of his army.  Who could have opposed the invincible warrior-king?  A few kings accepted his over-lordship, surrendering without fighting.  A few did so after their defeat.  A few more courted his friendship.  Having conquered the whole world, Bali became the emperor.

Not content with his emperorship of Patalaloka (the Nether World) and Earth, due to some of the Asura’s influence, Bali became greedy and wanted to rule Heaven too.  In order to take the place of Indra (the King of Heaven), being guided by his Guru Sukracharyara, Bali performed the Vishwajit sacrifice on the bank of the Narmada River, a yaj~na for the purpose of becoming the king of three worlds.

Bali then set out to conquer Amravati, the capital of Heaven, in his divine chariot which he had obtained from Agni, the fire God.  Bali was also wearing the lotus flower garland presented by his grandfather and carrying the conch gifted by his Guru.  Lord Indra knew He was not going to be able to stop Bali, due to the guidance of His Guru Brihaspati, He abandoned Heaven and went into exile.  Bali ascended the throne of heaven and became the lord of the three worlds.

Indra’s mother Aditi was saddened by His defeat and, with the help of her husband Sage Kashyapa, made a vow to seek help from Lord Vishnu.  Pleased by Aditi’s devotion, Lord Vishnu appeared and asked what she wanted.  Aditi said that she wanted her son Indra to be reinstated as the King of Heaven.  Lord Vishnu said, “Even though Bali is a great king and a great leader, your worship shall not prove fruitless.  Since Bali has become greedy and has shortened your son’s rule, I will be born as a son to you to protect Indra and the Devas.”

A few months later, Lord Vishnu was born to Aditi as His sixth incarnation.  As Kashyapa and Aditi stood amazed, Lord Vishnu changed His form to a very short-statured brahmin (priest).  Named Vamana, clad in a loincloth, with matted hair, He carried a wooden umbrella in one hand and a kamandala (a small water-pot) in other one.

Though Bali was ruling all three worlds, his desire continued to grow.  To become even more powerful, he performed the Great Yaj~na, as guided by his Guru Sukracharyara.  For the yaj~na to be successful, the person performing it must give whatever anyone asks from him.  Last in the line of people waiting to receive gifts stood the short brahmin, Vamana.  Everyone watched him, as He was illuminating the whole place with His gracefulness, even though He was a dwarf.

When Vamana came forward, Bali and his wife followed tradition by washing His feet.  Bali then asked, “O holy brahmin, what can I do for you?  Ask from me whatever you desire.  Do not hesitate; ask for whatever you want!  Cows, elephants, horses, chariots, villages, anything?”

Vamana shook His head and said, “All I need is the amount of land that is three paces long as measured by my stride.”  Bali was very disappointed with Vamana’s humble demand and said, “I am ready to grant you a whole continent, but all you wish is three paces of land?”  Bali laughed, “You shall have as much as you want.”

At that moment, Shukracharya felt something was wrong.  He stopped Bali as he took the holy water kamandala in his hand, to grant the request.  Pulling Bali aside, Shukracharya said, “Stop!  There is some scheme or plot behind this midget brahmin.  He is not the person He looks to be!”  Bali replied, “Nothing can be done now, I have given my word.  How can Bali, the grandson of Prahlad, refuse to fulfill a promise, like a common cheat?”

Shukracharya was convinced that this little Vamana was none other than Lord Vishnu himself, the sustainer of the three worlds, but in disguise to help Indra and the Devas.  He warned Bali, but it only made Bali happier, knowing that his Lord had come to ask something from him.  Since he couldn’t persuade Bali from his own destruction, Shukracharya changed himself into an insect and went inside the kamandala to blocked the spout so that Bali couldn’t pour the water to fulfill the request.

Lord Vishnu saw the situation.  He took a stem of holy grass and poked open the spout of the kamandala with it.  That injured one of the eyes of Shukracharya so that water flowed out from it.  Taking that water in his hand, Bali announced, “Holiest of all brahmins, Vamana, with this water I grant your wish.”

To everybody’s surprise, except Shukracharya, Vamana began to grow and grow.  Bali and everyone were astounded when Vamana began to measure the three paces with His feet.  With the first stride He covered the entire Earth & Patalaloka.  With His second stride, He covered Heaven.

Then Vamana asked Bali, “You promised me three paces of land.  I have covered all that was yours in two.  Where should I place my third stride?”  Now, confirmed that Vamana was none other than Lord Vishnu, Bali said, “O Lord, I am humbled by Your presence.  Please place your third step on my head and get rid of my greed!”  Lord Vishnu smiled and placed His third step on Bali’s head.  With the immense pressure of Lord Vishnu’s foot, Bali was pushed down to Patalaloka.

Indra was reinstated to Heaven’s throne, which made Aditi happy.  The Devas were very happy for getting their kingdom back.  As Bali had been His true devotee, Lord Vishnu blessed him and gave him the right to rule Patalaloka as long as he wanted to.

Then He told Bali to ask for anything he wished for.  Bali asked Lord Vishnu to be present in front of him day and night, so that he can worship him constantly.  Lord Vishnu said, “Your wish is granted, you will see me all the time!” and vanished.  To keep His promise, Lord Vishnu became Bali’s doorkeeper, standing in front of Bali all the time, though Bali had no clue.

Goddess Lakshmi and all of the Devas missed Lord Vishnu, who was not in Vaikuntha.   earning what had happened, She disguised herself as an ordinary woman and visited Bali in Patalaloka.  She said to Bali, “Your Majesty! My husband has gone to fulfill some errands and is not at home.  I need protection.  I heard that your kingdom is the safest place, please give me protection too!”   Moved by Her words, Bali said, “Lady!  You are like a sister to me.  Please come and stay in my palace, stay here as long as you wish!”

She thanked Bali and started living in the palace in Patalaloka.  Since the Goddess of wealth was in Patalaloka, it became a very prosperous place and everyone living there was very happy; Bali’s kingdom was flourishing.

One day Bali heard his sister saying her prayers.  Bali asked, “What are you praying for?”  She said, “I am praying for a long and healthy life for you, my brother.”  Bali was so happy and said, “Ask me for whatever you want, I will give it to you, my sister!”  She smiled and said, “Brother, I want my husband back.”  With a puzzled look Bali asked, “Your husband…?”  She then pointed towards the gatekeeper and said, “That is my husband….” Bali was unable to wrap his head around what was going on, but was intent on keeping his word, so he said, “Yes, you may have Him back…”

Before Bali realized what was going on, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi appeared.  Bali was shocked to learn that, all these days, it was Lord Vishnu as his gatekeeper and that his so-called sister was Goddess Lakshmi.  He fell to their feet and apologized.  “I was keeping my word!”  Lord Vishnu said and continued, “It was your honesty and which brought me here.  As promised, I was in front of your eyes day and night.”

Bali then sought forgiveness from Goddess Lakshmi for unknowingly keeping Lord Vishnu away from Her for a long time.  Goddess Lakshmi said, “Bali, it is not your fault, this is always His behavior.  He is always in front of His devotees, day and night, even if they don’t realize it!”  Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi returned to Vaikuntha. Bali wisely ruled Patalaloka as long as he wanted and attained moksha at His Lord’s feet.

Understanding Form and Formless

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Ever since I was a child, looking at the sky would attune me to the experience of God, inside.  You can use the form of the sky, which is almost formless, to find the formlessness within, your own Self.  I especially love the night sky!  I was delighted when I found this in the yoga texts:

Fix your gaze on the pure cloudless sky to experience the nature of Shiva.

Vijñana Bhairava 84

The point of human life is that you must know both realities: the whole of your own beingness (the formless) and the divinity of your form (your body and your mind).  You are already Consciousness-Itself; now all you have to do is know and experience yourself as you truly are, outside and inside.

If you have this experience without proper preparation, it doesn’t last long.  You can have a flash of cosmic consciousness, like being struck by lightning, but it fades away.  You can experience the peace that passeth understanding, but your inner turmoil and confusion returns.  You may feel yourself expand to fill the whole sky and beyond, but then you return to your familiar limitations so easily that you even forget that you had an experience.

Thus yoga is for the purpose to give you the experience of yourself as Consciousness-Itself, while yoga also prepares you to become established in it as a continuing experience.  Your body and your mind must be conditioned to consciousness.

The mainstream Western lifestyle conditions you to unconsciousness. The average person comes home at the end of a busy day and reaches for a beer or glass of wine, drugging themselves into unconsciousness.  Television is another drug, inducing a coma-like state within minutes — you’re barely breathing and have even lost the capacity for independent thinking.  Another favorite methodology that creates unconsciousness is stress.  You see, the experience of your own divinity is an experience of effortless beingness.  Thus, all your pushing and efforting is taking you in the wrong direction.

Still, you must work.  You must be productive.  You must get things done.  But do you have to strain so hard while you are doing it?  Instead, you could bring your yogic peace and innermost joy with you while you are busy and productive.  The key is found in understanding the form and the formless.  When you see your body, your mind, your work, your relationships and your life as Divine, even when they are challenging, then you can see your own inner Divinity as well.

This difference is finding the effortlessness in your efforting, which is built into the Svaroopa® yoga poses.  The effortlessness is obvious when you are lying on mounded blankets, but it is also there in the standing poses and the challenge of abs and backbends.  As you learn how to use your body in a new way, you are learning how to accomplish things without efforting, without strain.  You are also learning a new way of life.  Most importantly, this effortless efforting naturally inclines you to the experience of yourself as the form of the formless.

The Science of Form & Formless

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

You can practice yoga without ever looking at an image of Shiva.  You can do all the poses and breathing practices.  You can benefit from the healing that Svaroopa® yoga particularly provides.  You don’t have to know anything about Ganesha to grow into the peace and transformation that the inner experience gives you, especially when you sit quietly for a few moments after releasing the tensions in your spinal muscles.  Or when you get that really deep yummy Shavasana at the beginning and end of class.  You can even learn Svaroopa® yoga meditation, to experience the vastness of your own being, and you don’t ever need to look at a statue or painting or learn any Sanskrit.

Your inner exploration can take you to the depths of your being, to discover the source of love and bliss within you, and tap into the ever arising flow of creativity and joy.  Yet, you will not be able to take that into your life if you don’t understand the science of the form and the formless; you will leave your own inner essence behind when you open your eyes.  The inside and the outside will become more and more separate if you don’t understand the form and the formless, which means that you understand that you are the form of the formless.

In the West, the formless is usually called God.  If you are uncomfortable with the word God, you can substitute another term:  the One, ultimate reality, the source, essence, infinite being, the highest, consciousness, existence, primordial beingness, higher power, etc.  Any of these terms is a good start, as it names “that which banged.”

In 1992, physicists held a press conference to announce that the Big Bang Theory was no longer a theory, as it had been scientifically proved beyond doubt.  A journalist asked, “What was there before the Big Bang?  What banged?”  The lead physicist answered that is a matter for theologians, not physicists.  Yet today, physicists are studying the source texts of many religions for help in finding exactly what lies at the base of the universe; what is the source of the energy that becomes matter?   Yoga calls it Shiva.

Shiva takes on form, becoming this universe and becoming you, as described in this sutra:

Chiti samkochaatmaa chetano’pi samkuchita vishvamayah. (Pratyabhijnahrdayam 4)

Chiti, by assuming contraction, becomes both the universe and the individuals, who have the universe as their bodies in a contracted form.

The basis of all the yoga practices and teachings is this amazing formula:  God becomes you.  (Say it this way, “God is being me.”)  This includes your body as the tangible, real, material form of the formless.  Additionally, your mind is a contracted and conditioned form of the one ever-existent unconditioned consciousness.

This is why you can work with your body in certain ways, ways that are different than what exercise-oriented methodologies offer, to unravel the contraction and discover the divine essence within.  You must also work with your mind, to unravel its limitations, to pour it back into its own source.  Yoga promises that you will know yourself to the deepest and fullest extent, recognizing your own divinity and seeing it in everyone and everything else.  This world — and everything in  it — is the form of the formless.

The Formless in Form

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

The first time I studied in an Ashram in India, we chanted a beautiful Sanskrit text to Shiva every eveningThe melody captivated me as much as the words, weaving a lyrical poem to the One Ultimate Reality.  From the mantra I had been given, I knew the name Shiva but I had never before encountered such rich and beautiful symbolism as this text described.  It was echoed in the many statues in the extensive gardens, statues I really knew nothing about.  Yet each night when I left the chant, the statue of the dancing Shiva drew me close.

The Nataraja was installed at a curve in the pathway back to my dorm room.  It was about 4 feet tall, but installed on a pedestal almost as high as a bench, so it was taller than me.  I slowed in front of it, lingering a bit longer each night.  One night I bowed to it.  As I tipped forward, my head came to the level of Shiva’s feet and internal heat climbed my spine.  I could feel it distinctly, starting at my tailbone and climbing all the way to the top of my head.  I knew that inner fire intimately, as I had been having ecstatic Kundalini experiences for over a year.  That’s why I was in India, to spend time with the Guru who had given me this great gift.

After that first time, I bowed to Nataraja every night.  Every night I felt that extraordinary fire climb my spine.  I realized there was something very real about this statue and, by extension, all the others, so I began to learn about them.  Now I love the statues, paintings and batiks and most especially the stories of the gods and goddesses, who are the forms of the formless.  The most important reason to understand them is that it helps you understand yourself, as you are a form of the formless as well.

Called by many names, there is only the One.  Yoga gives it the name Shiva.  Other meditative traditions call it by other names, while religions also have their names.  The unique thing about yoga is that it says that you are that One Reality.  The formless takes form — as you.  To fully understand this radical statement, you have to personalize it.  Say it out loud, or even whisper to yourself, “I am the formless, ever-existent Reality that pervades all things and has become all things.”

The hidden purpose of all the yoga practices is to know your own Self.  Only the Shaktipat Masters really know how to make that happen.  That’s why I studied with my Baba, and that’s why I serve you.