Monthly Archives: October 2018

Rama Avatar, part 2

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

We return to Lord Ram’s story, seeing he and his three brothers growing quickly.  Rama and Lakshmana were inseparable, as were Bharata and Shatrugna.  The pairs did everything together: eating, playing and studying together.  They were well-educated, both in the Vedic lore as well as a king’s martial arts.  Sage Vasishtha, Dasharatha’s kula (clan) Guru taught them everything they needed in life and to rule the kingdom well, when their time would come, after their father.  Soon they grew into young men.

It was time for them to be married.  Dasharatha had begun talking with Sage Vasishtha about their readiness to marry when Sage Vishvamitra visited.  The king respectfully welcomed Vishvamitra with all formalities, asking what grace brought him to the palace.  Sage Vishvamitra explained that his sacred yaj~nas (fire ceremonies), performed for the happiness and prosperity of the world, were frequently disturbed by rakshasas (forest spirits).  He asked Dasharatha’s to send Rama to protect Vishvamitra’s forest ashram.

Feeling protective towards his children, especially Rama, Dasharatha begged Sage Vishvamitra to let Rama be.  Instead Dasharatha himself would come to protect the ashram.  But Sage Vishvamitra knew who Rama really was, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  The sage refused Dasharatha’s offer, even saying he doubted Dasharatha’s promise to protect the sages in his kingdom.  Sage Vasishtha convinced Dasharatha to send Rama.  As always, a package deal, Lakshmana joined Rama on the adventure.   On the way to the forest, Vishvamitra taught Rama and Lakshmana several mantras of warfare, including incantations and astras (energetic weapons).

On reaching the hermitage, Vishvamitra instructed the princes to safeguard the yaj~na from rakshasas trying to disturb the proceedings.  A rakshasi named Tataka was the first to try.  In the fierce battle between Tataka and Rama, following the advice of Vishvamitra, Rama killed her, though it was against kshatriya (warrior) principles to kill a woman.  Next Subahu was killed by Rama.  The third was Maaricha, whom Rama dropped in the sea near Sri Lanka by using an astra arrow.  Vishvamitra successfully completed his yaj~na, very happy that Rama and Lakshmana helped him in this effort for the world’s benefit.

Vishvamitra then took the boys to a few places, describing the importance and history of each.  During their walk through the forest, Rama stopped and placed his foot on a small rock, to everyone’s astonishment, the rock turned into a beautiful woman.  She bowed to Rama and introduced herself as Ahalya, thanking him for lifting the curse placed upon her by her husband, Rishi Gautama.  A daughter of Lord Brahma, Ahalya was cursed due to an unfortunate incident involving Indra’s (the King of Devas) lust for Ahalya.  Ahalya, now freed from the curse, became even more purified by the touch of Rama’s foot, and returned to the heavens.

Continuing onward, Sage Vishvamitra, Rama and Lakshmana arrived in the kingdom of Mithila.  They found out that a big event was happening soon, a svayamvara — a contest to win the princess Sita’s hand in marriage.  She was the daughter of King Janaka, of the Videha dynasty, a great philosopher-king.  His capital city, Janakpuri, was a dominant political and cultural center as well as a hub for the sages, including Janaka’s Guru, Yaj~navalkya.

Who is Sita?  King Janaka, like Dasharatha, didn’t have any children.  He constantly prayed to Lord Shiva for a child.  One day, as he was getting the ground plowed and prepared for a yaj~na, he unearthed a golden casket.  In the casket he found a beautiful baby girl.  He took the baby as a gift from the Gods, naming her Sita, meaning “from the furrow.”  Sita is therefore known as the child of Bhoomi Devi (Mother Earth’s child).  She was an incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi, coming to assist Lord Rama with his task on earth.

Sita was brought up as the adopted daughter of Janaka and his wife Sunaina, raised as a princess of Mithila.  Sita is also called “Janaki” (beloved by her adopted father), “Vaidehi” (a princess of the Videha dynasty) and “Maithili” (a princess of the Mithila Kingdom).

Sage Vishvamitra took the boys to watch the svayamvara.  Walking by the palace, Rama looked up and saw a beautiful girl in one of the balconies.  She too saw him.  Their eyes met; dare we call it “love at first sight?”  Yet they must proceed to the svayamvara.

Whomever could lift Pinaka (Lord Shiva’s bow), string it and shoot an arrow from it, would win Sita’s hand in marriage.  Many princes of great strength and valor were present at the svayamvara.  One by one, each tried but failed miserably.  Not one was able even to lift the bow, let alone launch an arrow.  Then, in the midst of high protests, some of them got together to try lifting it, but couldn’t budge the bow even an inch.  All the princes told Janaka that his challenge was too hard and that his daughter would die unmarried.  Though heartbroken, Janaka couldn’t change the rules of the svayamvara once they were established.

When all the others gave up, Sage Vishvamitra winked at Rama to go to the stage and launch the arrow.  Rama went near Shiva’s bow, bowed to it and worshiped it, praying to Lord Shiva for his blessings.  To everyone’s astonishment, Rama then lifted the bow with just one hand, strung it and shot an arrow from it.  It made the bow break in half with a thundering sound, heard by everyone in all the corners of the earth!

Sita came out with a garland and placed it on Rama’s neck.  Rama was delighted to find the girl he had seen on the balcony, now garlanding him.  On her part, Sita was pleased to be garlanding the handsome man she had seen from her balcony.

King Janaka sent a messenger to inform King Dasharatha about the svayamvara and, with due respects, to propose the marriage of Sita to Rama.  It was also decided that the three brothers of Rama would marry the sister and cousins of Sita:  Sita’s cousin Mandavi to marry Bharatha, Sita’s younger sister Urmila to marry Lakshmana, and Sita’s other cousin Shrutakirti to marry Satruguna.  The weddings were performed in Janakapuri with great gaiety and splendor, befitting the kings of both kingdoms.  The four brothers with their wives started back to Ayodhya with their parents.

The thundering sound from the breaking of Shiva’s bow, Pinaka, had reached all the corners of the earth.  It also reached the ears of Parashurama, another incarnation of Vishnu, who was meditating atop the Mahendra Mountains.  He knew what that sound was; he had given Pinaka to King Janaka!  Parashurama was enraged.  He called a challenge out to Rama.  Everyone was terrified, as they knew who Parashurama was.

Rama proved to be equal to Parashurama in all the weapons.  Parashurama got suspicious, so he asked Rama to string Sharanga (Lord Vishnu’s bow).  Rama did it in the blink of an eye.  The warrior-sage Parashurama realized he was looking at his own subsequent reincarnation.  He gave Sharanga to Rama and blessed Sita, then retired for his meditations on Mount Mahendra.

The wedding party continued to Ayodhya.  On their return, the whole kingdom joyfully welcomed the new couples with great devotion and respect.  Ayodhya was flourishing more than ever, after the arrival of the princes with their consorts.  More to come…

Rama Avatar

By Nirooshitha Sethuram &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Lord Ram, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is well known because his incredible story was passed through the generations of oral tradition and written down by the Sage Valmiki.  One of the oldest, largest and most ancient epics in world literature, The Ramayana (RAWM-AAW-yuh-NAW), it has been adapted or translated into approximately 300 other languages.  It is presented in ballets in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Philippines.  I grew up with Ramavataram, by Kavi Kambar, in the Tamil language.  The compelling details of Lord Ram’s story is presented in seven kandas or parts.  Let us begin!

One day in Vaikuntha, Lord Vishnu was in his “Anatha Sayana,” blissful sleep on Adishesha, his five-headed cobra which personifies the energy that becomes the universe.  Feeling someone holding both of his legs very tight, he woke to see Goddess Lakshmi, his consort.  He asked why she was holding his legs so tightly.  She replied that it is to keep him from leaving Vaikuntha, as it has become a ritual of him leaving so often to take different incarnations to save the universe, always leaving her alone in Vaikuntha.

With his usual smile, Lord Vishnu said it is his duty to go on such journeys to protect Brahma’s creation.  He continued, “My next incarnation is to show how a man should live in the world.  If you want, I will take you with me.”  In joy, Shree Lakshmi says, “I will show the universe how a woman should live!”

Adishesha hissed, saying, “O Lord, when you were going on these journeys, the only satisfaction I had was in keeping my Goddess safe.  But now you both are leaving me here alone.  What have I done to deserve this type of punishment?”  As Lord Vishnu began to reply, “Okay, I…” he was interrupted.  Panchajanya, the conch in his left hand, and Sudarshana Chakra, the spinning disk-like weapon in his right hand, softly said, “What about us, then?”  Smiling again, the Lord said, “Alright, I will take all three of you with me to be my brothers.”  All were happy.

Lord Vishnu added, “I need to give the opportunity for my dear gate keepers, Jaya and Vijaya, to return to me as well.  This will be their second, out of the three births they need to take because of the curse by the four sons of Lord Brahma.”

Dasharatha was the crown prince of beautiful capital city Ayodhya of the kingdom of Kosala. He was the son of King Aja, of the Kosala kingdom.  Married to Princess Indumati of Vidarbha, they named their son Nemi, but he was widely known as Dasharatha, the one with a chariot that moves in all ten (das) directions, as the name describes.

Dasharatha was a supreme archer, able to hit his target by merely hearing the sound of movement.  On a dark rainy evening, hunting near the banks of the Saryu river, he heard the sound of a deer drinking water.  Without hesitation, he shot his arrow in the direction of the sound.  The arrow found its target, but Dasharatha was shocked to hear a human cry.  Devastated, he ran to find a young boy lying on the river bank with an arrow in his chest.

The boy, in unbearable pain, said that he was Shravan Kumara, who lived in a nearby hut, taking care of his blind parents.  He had been collecting water from the river in a pitcher, which created a sound like a deer drinking water.  He asked the prince to take the water to his parents and tell them what had happened.  Then he asked Dasharatha to pull the arrow out of his chest, to liberate him from the miserable pain and to let him die.  With great regret, Dasharatha pulled the arrow from Shravan’s heart.  Shravan died.

Dasharatha, with a very heavy heart, took the water pitcher to Shravan’s blind parents.  The old couple, eagerly waiting for their son, learned what had happened and that their son is no more.  The devastated couple cursed Dasharatha, “Just as we are dying due to the unbearable separation from our dear son, you will also have the same fate!”  This made Dasharatha miserable for a long time but, as time passed, he lost that painful memory.

In time, succeeding his father Aja, Dasharatha ascended the throne of Ayodhya.  He was such a great warrior such that he even helped Indra, the King of Devas (Gods), to fight Asuras (Demons).  A mighty king, he was considerate to all his citizens, ruling the country justly, leaving no room for criticism.

Dasharatha married Kausalya, a princess of Kosala.  Though they were happily married, Kaushalya was unable to bear any children for the Ikshvaku dynasty.  Dasharatha then married Kaikeyi, from the Kekeya kingdom, promising her father Ashwapati that his grandson will be the heir to the throne.  Again with no luck having children, he then married Sumitra from the Magadha kingdom.

Out of the three wives, Dasharatha was very fond of Kaikeyi; it is said that he loved her the most.  This may have been due to the support she gave him during wars.  Kaikeyi accompanied her husband in most of his battles.  She had the heart of a warrior and performed better in battle than most men could.  On one occasion, Dasharatha was injured badly in a war in the Dandaka forest.  Kaikeyi saved him by driving his chariot away from the war, then mending his wounds and taking care of him until he regained his strength.  Praising her devotion and strength, Dasharatha promised to fulfill two wishes for her.  As Kaikeyi didn’t have anything to request, she said that she will use the boons when she needed them.

Time passed, but they had no children.  Dasharatha was anxious to produce an heir to the throne, so he performed the Putra-Kameshti Yaj~na (a fire ceremony for the purpose of having a son).  Lord Agni, God of fire, was delighted by the sacrifice.  He appeared from the fire and gave Dasaratha a pot of “payasam” (rice porridge), to be consumed by his wives so that they would bear children.

The righteous King Dasharatha first gave the payasam to his eldest queen, Kausalya; she ate half of it.  Then he passed it to Sumitra, who ate a quarter of it.  Then he gave the rest to Kaikeyi, but she ate only half of the remainder and gave the rest to Sumitra, who finished it.  As promised by Lord Agni, all three of them were blessed with children — four boys: Rama to Kausalya, Bharata to Kaikeyi, and the twins Lakshmana and Shatrugna to Sumitra as she ate from the payasam twice.  Dasharatha was in eternal joy.  Rama is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Bharata the Sudarshana Chakra, Lakshmana is the incarnation of Adishesha and Shatrugna the Panchajanya conch.

The four children grew day by day.  Kaikeyi was so fond of Rama, sometimes she would take care of Rama’s needs before taking care of herself or her own son Bharata.  Everyone saw Kaikeyi with Rama even more than with his own mother, Kausalya.  Dasharatha was very happy about this, as he was worried about the promise he made to Kaikeyi’s father when he married her.

Rama and Lakshmana were inseparable, as were Bharata and Shatrugna.  The pairs did everything together:  eating, playing and studying together.   They were well educated, both in the Vedic lore as well as a king’s martial arts.  Sage Vasishtha, Dasharatha’s kula (clan) Guru taught them everything they needed in life and to rule the kingdom well, when their time would come, after their father.  Soon they grew into young men.

To be continued…

How Important is Your Spine?

By Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda

In embryonic development, the spine forms first.  The whole rest of your body, including your brain, formed after your spine.  Swami Nirmalananda explains yoga’s perspective on this, “Consciousness manifests everything in this universe.  Consciousness used your spine to direct your embryonic development as well as to empower everything afterward.”

Your brain blossoms forth on one end of your spinal cord.  Most people think their spinal cord is a tail on their brain, but it’s actually the other way around.  Your brain is the mushroom cap on the top end of your spinal cord.  Your brain does not control your whole body, your spine does!

While Svaroopa® Yoga’s core opening poses give you more prana (energy) to fuel you through your day and through your life, there is more.  Once you get enough lengthening of your tailbone, Grace ignites an inner fire — the enlivening and enlightening power called Kundalini.  This is your own personal power of upliftment, working within you to show you your own Divine Essence.  In yoga, Grace is defined as the blessing of the ancient sages, carried into our modern day by those who dedicate their life to discovering, and then sharing, these ancient mysteries.

What this means is that Svaroopa® yoga is “Kundalini yoga.” Swami Nirmalananda has been doing this work quietly for years, not publicizing this information for several reasons.  One is that few know what Kundalini is, so hearing that Svaroopa® yoga awakens Kundalini wouldn’t mean anything to them.  In addition, others unfortunately suffer from widespread misinformation that makes Kundalini sound terribly scary.  The greatest blessing a human being can receive in their life is the awakening of this inner force of radiance, but the media makes it sound terrifying.  It’s not.

Another reason that we don’t publicize Svaroopa® yoga as Kundalini yoga is because another style of yoga practice that uses that name.  We choose to be respectful and not to create confusion.  You may have done some Kundalini Yoga classes, which usually feature pumping your breath in rhythm with repetitive movements.  Swami Nirmalananda says, “While, from my perspective, it’s spinal tightening, it is also ecstatic.  They pump enough prana that the bliss pushes past the knots in their spine.  In Svaroopa® yoga, we don’t pump the prana because we dissolve the knots in your spine and let the prana flow of its own accord, 24/7.”  We allow Grace to awaken Kundalini so the whole interior process takes place naturally, organically, smoothly and grace-fully.  We call this “Alignment with Grace.”

Once your own Kundalini is awakened, most yogis get a feeling of physical warmth or inner spaciousness.  Within a short time it may become a periodic surge of energy, while you are doing poses or meditating, which further dissolves the blocks you carefully installed, probably even lifetimes ago.  As you open more, this inner current becomes a reliable flow that expands your knowing of your own Being and makes you able to see the world in a whole new way.

Each stage along the way offers profound transformations, which help to uncover your deeper identity as Consciousness-Itself.  This is Self, svaroopa.  This is the inner blossoming of your own Divine Essence.  Vidyadevi describes, “At first, waves of bliss would move up my spine in meditation. As my spine became more open, I had a stronger experience of that bliss.  In meditation, it was like a geyser was flowing through, not made of water, but of pure bliss.  It was so powerful, so wonderful.  I know now what Sage Shankaracharya describes in the Vivekachudamani — ‘ever expanding ecstasy.’  It is always flowing through your spine.  It is there to be experienced and so much more… your own Self.”  Do more yoga.  Do more Svaroopa® Yoga.

Originally published in May 2013

Your Spine: Anatomy, Energy & Consciousness

by Vidyadevi Stillman &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Everything physical is made of atoms, including you.  Atoms are made up of subatomic particles, which are tiny bits of contracted energy swirling around in seemingly-empty space.  The subatomic particles that make up your Svaroopa® blankets and that make up the floor and the air that you breathe aren’t any different than the subatomic particles that make up your body. Everything is made of protons, neutrons, electrons, quarks, muons and other things the average person doesn’t really understand.  Everything is made of these same “building blocks,” yet everything is different.  The difference arises from the patterns in which the particles swirl. Different patterns create different objects, including you.

There is an energetic pattern for the human body — a template.  We all have two eyes, one nose, one mouth, two arms, two legs, etc.  The ancient yogis mapped the energy patterns of the template, an atomic map of the human body. Their map is the foundation for acupuncture as well as many of yoga’s practices.  Acupuncture calls these energy flows meridians. Yoga calls them nadis.

Thousands of years ago, yogis mapped all of the 720 million nadis in the human body.  All of them branch out from the core flow, in middle — your spine.  Your nervous system is the physical equivalent of the nadis with all your nerves branching off from your spinal cord.  If scientists designed an instrument to detect these energy flows in the human body, they would find the template the yogis describe, and tell you that your spine and nervous system hold the highest concentration of energy in your whole body.   Unfortunately this means that your spinal tensions have not only physical effects, but they also block the flow of the energy that keeps you alive.  Svaroopa® yoga specializes in core opening, which is the decompression of your spine, both physically and energetically.

When you begin Svaroopa® yoga, you get rapid, almost miraculous improvement in your physical condition.  From foot and knee pain, through digestive imbalances, to neck or jaw pain and even headaches, core opening helps all of them, even all at the same time.  Chiropractors and osteopaths explain how this works, a familiar paradigm.  Yet yoga describes more:  the energy that makes your body’s energy grid work, called prana in Sanskrit, is the power of your own presence enlivening your own body.  Decompressing your spine is like getting the kinks out of a garden hose, so your whole body becomes more fully alive, enlivened by you, from your spine outward.

When we use a particular pose to release tension in muscles connected to your tailbone or another part of your spine, we are working on your physical anatomy.  Your body feels more open and free, which creates an instantaneous effect on your mind.    Yet more is going on, whether you’ve been able to identify it or not yet.  Simultaneously, the angles of all the poses are opening up subtle energetic levels.  Yoga describes that the fullest potential of a human being becomes available through this inner opening, specifically through your spine.

Madhya vikaasaach chidaananda laabhah

Pratyabhijnahrdayam Sutra 17

By means of the middle channel (your spine),

you attain the bliss of consciousness.

Swami Nirmalananda describes your spine as the “conduit of consciousness.” What is consciousness? Consciousness is beingness, the pure Is-ness that has always existed, and existed before anything existed.  Consciousness also moves and flows, being the energy that materializes this world out of nothing.  Your body is one of the things being materialized.  In your body, a current of energy flows through your spine, keeping you alive and giving you the unique capacities of a human being. One of those capacities is something that few people have interest in exploring – an inner potentiality.  Most people explore the world outside of them, but yoga says your greatest potentiality lies within.

Once you get a certain amount of core opening, the prana (life-energy) in your spine is amped up by a higher frequency moving through.  Swami Nirmalananda’s presence and teaching assures these reliable effects of core opening:  the release beginning at your tailbone provides:

  1. Profound physical benefits
  2. Transformative changes that improve how you feel in your life, and
  3. The awakening of a profound energy flow through your spine, assuring you access to your own Divinity.

Alignment with Grace is core opening — the spinal release that opens up what was hidden inside you; opening and aligning your spine opens a profound doorway to experiencing your own Self.  Do more yoga.  Do more Svaroopa® Yoga.

Originally published May 2013