Monthly Archives: December 2018

Rama Avatar, part 5

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Sita had been kidnapped.  Searching for her, Rama and Lakshmana came across a great strong monkey, who introduced himself as Hanuman.

Who is Hanuman?

Many stories are told about the great ones!  So it is with Hanuman.  One story tells that Hanuman was the incarnation of Lord Shiva, coming to help Lord Vishnu in his Rama avatar.

Hanuman is also called the son of Vayu, the Wind God.  This is what gave him the ability to fly and to take on different forms.  Hanuman was born to Anjana and Kesari.  Anjana had prayed diligently to Lord Shiva, asking him to take birth as her son.  Thus the great and mighty Hanuman came into being.

The mischievous Hanuman, when he was young, swallowed the sun, which he released only after the Devas had prayed to him.  Hanuman began using his supernatural powers in a mischievous way.  One day he pranked a meditating sage.  In a fury, the sage cursed Hanuman to forget his powers temporarily.  Later, when he became an adult, the curse lifted and Hanuman remembered all of his godlike powers.

When Rama found him, Hanuman was living near Mount Rishyamukha with Sugreeva.  Sugreeva was hiding from his brother Vali, the king of the vanaras (monkeys).  Seeing Rama & Lakshmana, Sugreeva misunderstood them to be allies of his brother, coming to harm him.  Sugreeva sent Hanuman, his friend and minister to go find out about them.

Hanuman introduced himself to Rama and Lakshmana who shared their devastating story with Hanuman.  Hearing this, Hanuman’s heart was filled with love, respect and devotion towards Rama.  After he listened to the story of the kidnapping, Hanuman told about Sugreeva, who was in a similar predicament, being in exile in the forest.

Vali and Sugreeva were very close and loving brothers.  Vali was king of Kishkindha, the vanara kingdom; Tara was his wife.  A demon named Maayaavi came to Kishkindha, challenging Vali for a fight.  Vali accepted, but Maayaavi ran into the jungle and inside his deep cave so he could have the upper hand.  The brothers followed him through the jungle.  Though Sugreeva tried to stop Vali, Vali entered the cave, telling Sugreeva to wait outside.  Many days went by but Vali didn’t return.  Sugreeva didn’t leave his post.

Suddenly one day Sugreeva heard Maayaavi’s roar.  Then a stream of blood gushed out of the cave, followed by another roar.  Sugreeva thought it was Maayaavi’s cry of triumph and that Vali had been killed.  Sugreeva thought for a while and decided to block the entrance of the cave with a huge boulder, in order to stop Maayaavi from coming out and attacking Kishkindha.  He returned home with a heavy heart, not talking to anyone for days.

However, inside the cave, Vali had killed Maayaavi.  Eagerly coming out to see Sugreeva, Vali found the entrance blocked by a boulder.  He thought that Sugreeva betrayed him for the throne.  There was no way out of the cave but Vali continued trying to push the boulder aside.

Back in the kingdom, Sugreeva continued to be silent.  Hanuman was one of the nobles at the court as well as a dear friend.  He approached Sugreeva, insisting that the throne must not remain vacant.  As Vali’s brother, Sugreeva should take Vali’s place.  With great hesitation, and after a lot of thought, Sugreeva agreed.  He ascended the throne for the sake of his people.  Hanuman served him well as his minister.

Time passed.  One day, Vali succeeded in pushing the boulder a little so he could scrape through a small opening.  He arrived at the palace a few days later.  While Sugreeva was delighted to see his beloved brother alive, Vali was not in a mood for loving reunions.  He furiously accused his brother of being a hypocrite who trapped him in the cave.  He was not willing to listen to Sugreeva or anyone.

Vali banished Sugreeva from Kishkindha.  When Sugreeva’s wife, Ruma, attempted to go with him, Vali claimed her to be his property and would not let her go.  Hanuman somehow managed to join Sugreeva and both of them left Kishkindha.  They reached the Rishyamukha Mountains, where Sugreeva was safe, since Vali could not go there due to a curse from Rishi Matanga.

Hanuman finished Sugreeva’s story.  He thought Rama and Lakshmana would be able to help Sugreeva free his wife, so he invited them to meet Sugreeva.  They accepted the invitation, so Hanuman took his gargantuan form, picked up Rama and Lakshmana and flew through the woods to Sugreeva’s hiding place.  There, Rama promised to help Sugreeva to retrieve his wife, Ruma.  In return, Sugreeva promised to help Rama find Sita and help him in every way.

In a duel, Vali gained half his opponent’s strength, thus no one was able to beat Vali in direct combat.  Knowing his brother’s strength, Sugreeva doubted that Rama could win.  After a few tests, which Rama passed with ease, Sugreeva started to believe in Rama.  Hanuman became an ardent admirer of Rama, very loyal to him, not letting Rama out of his sight.

They decided it was time to free Ruma.  The plan was for Sugreeva to challenge Vali, then Rama was to kill Vali while he and Sugreeva were in combat.  Sugreeva went to Kishkindha, followed by Rama.  As planned, Sugreeva challenged his brother.  The duel was fierce.  Rama was unable to get a clear shot at Vali because both brothers looked very much the same.

Unable to defeat Vali, Sugreeva retreated to Rishyamukha Mountains.  They decided that Sugreeva would wear a garland so that Rama could identify Vali.  Through some spies, Vali’s wife Tara found out that Sugreeva had the support of a prince from the North.  She tried to stop Vali from going to the duel when Sugreeva challenged him again.  Vali disregarded his wife and went to the fight.  This time, though Vali had the upper hand, Rama was able to distinguish Vali from Sugreeva, and kill him with his arrow, shot from behind a tree.

With his last few breaths, Vali asked Rama to defend his action of killing someone who was not in combat with him.  Rama explained that it is the duty of a king to uphold justice, and that Vali should have listened to his brother without prior judgment and treated him as his son.  Rama also pointed out his worst mistake of keeping Ruma, Sugreeva’s wife with him.  Because Vali had wronged Sugreeva, Rama had done justice.

Vali was full of remorse when he heard Rama’s words, and requested Sugreeva and Rama both to pardon his actions.  He also requested them not to vest his sins on his wife and his son Angada, but to look after them.  With a heavy heart, Sugreeva told his brother that all he had wanted from him was his love and nothing more.  Vali blessed Sugreeva and died.

After doing the last rites for his brother, Sugreeva ascended the throne.  He crowned Vali’s son Angada as the crown prince.  However, Sugreeva soon forgot his promise to Rama, spending his time in enjoying his regained status.  The clever former ape queen Tara and Hanuman calmly intervened to prevent an enraged Lakshmana from destroying the ape citadel.  They made Sugreeva understand his duty and honor his pledge.

Sugreeva then sent search parties in all four directions, but they returned without success from the north, east and west.  Under the leadership of Angada and Hanuman, the southern search party reached the southern tip of the great land and sat on the south shore, depressed.  Angada said, “We have tried our best, but we have failed miserably.  I, as the leader of the party, am not prepared to go back to Kishkindha empty handed.  In fact I would like to kill myself here and equal myself to Jatayu the king of eagles who had sacrificed his life in service to Rama.”

Everyone in the search party was talking about the failed end of their search, when someone called to them from behind, “Friends!”  Everyone turned to see an eagle slowly walking towards them.  The eagle said, “Friends, I heard my brother Jatayu’s name come up in your conversation.  May I know how you came to know of my Jatayu?”  Angada told the eagle about Sita’s kidnapping.

The bird continued, “My name is Sampaathi.  We eagles are bestowed with very keen eyesight.  We are capable of pinpointing things at great distance.  I have seen Sita in a grove in Lankapuri.”  Uttering these words, Sampaathi, flew away.

Hearing this, Hanuman without wasting a second, took on his gargantuan form and made a colossal leap across the sea to Lankapuri.

More to come…

Rama Avatar, part 4

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Rama left the forest of Chitrakoot, visiting other ashrams, meeting many sages and getting their blessings.  He also helped them by killing the rakshasas harassing them, as this was a time when demonic forces were strongly affecting the earth and her residents.  Agastya was one of the great sages Rama visited, who gave the great gift of Vishnu’s bow and arrows.

Agastya suggested that Panchavati would be an ideal place for Rama’s further stay in the Dandakaranya forest.  Thus, Rama settled in Panchavati.  On the way there, Rama met Jatayu, the king of birds.  Jatayu was so happy to meet Rama!  Jatayu promised to guard all three of them from the sky.

A rakshasi named Shurpanaka occupied Dandakaranya forest along with her brothers Khara and Dushana.  One day, Shurpanaka happened upon Rama’s hermitage.  Seeing this handsome man, she wanted to get married to him.  She changed herself into a beautiful young woman and made an advance towards Rama.  Rama refused her, saying he was married, and sent her to check with Lakshmana (for some amusement).  “Not a bad replacement,” she thought and approached Lakshmana.  Short-tempered as always, he stared at her and told her to keep away from him.

Knowing Lakshmana was not going to work out, Shurpanaka decided to harm Sita, as she was the cause for Rama’s refusal.  Shurpanaka charged towards Sita.  Lakshmana, with one swing of his sword, cut off Shurpanaka’s nose.  Shurpanaka ran to her two brothers for help; they came to Rama’s hermitage to fight him.  Rama and Lakshmana killed both the brothers with ease.  Seeing this, Shurpanaka went screaming to her beloved brother Ravana in Lankapuri (Shree Lanka).

Who is Ravana?  Ravana was the son of the great sage Vishrava (or Vesamuni), whose father was the sage Pulastya, one of the great sages of all time, son of Brahma.  Ravana’s mother was and Kaikeshi, whose father was Sumali (or Sumalaya), king of the Asuras.  Kaikesi’s brothers, Maaricha and Subahu, were Ravana’s uncles.  Ravana had six brothers:  Kubera, Kumbhakarna, Vibhishana and Ahiravan, as well as Khara and Dushan, whom Rama had just killed.  His older sister was Kumbhini; his younger sister was Shurpanaka.

Ravana and his brother Kumbhakarna are the second incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya, the gatekeepers of Lord Vishnu.  Ravana married Mandodari, the daughter of Mayasura, and they had seven sons, Meghnaada (the most powerful one, also known as Indrajit), Atikaya, Akshayakumara, Devantaka, Narantaka, Trishira and Prahastha.

Ravana was a great scholar, having learned all four Vedas.  He was also a great musician, playing the veena (a stringed instrument), as well as a great singer from which he got the name Ravana, which means “of the terrifying roar.”  He had ten heads and twenty arms.  Above all, Ravana was known as the greatest devotee of Lord Shiva.   Ravana composed the hymn known as the Shiva Tandava Stotra.

Ravana had performed intense penance to Brahma for several years.  When Brahma appeared before him, Ravana requested immortality.  Brahma refused.  Then Ravana asked for invulnerability from gods, heavenly spirits, other asuras, serpents and wild beasts.  Thinking he was stronger than any mortal human being, he didn’t ask protection from humans.  Brahma granted his wish.

Being a great devotee of Lord Shiva, Ravana then went to see Lord Shiva at Mt.  Kailasa.  Nandi refused to let Ravana in, since Lord Shiva had asked not to be disturbed.  To show Nandi his love for Shiva, Ravana attempted to uproot and move Mt.  Kailasa.

Lord Shiva, to get rid of Ravana’s arrogance, pressed his little toe on Kailasa, pinning Ravana under the mountain.  Realizing he had made Lord Shiva angry, Ravana plucked off one of his heads, one of his hands and some of his nerves to create a makeshift veena, playing it to pacify him.  After listening to Ravana’s music for a long time, Lord Shiva released him from bondage.  Pleased with his resilience and devotion, Shiva gave him a divine sword called Chandrahas, warning if Ravana used it for any unjust deeds, it would return to Lord Shiva and Ravana’s days will be numbered.

Let’s return to the story.  Shurpanaka fled to Ravana, screaming that Lakshmana had cut off her nose and that she wants revenge.  Seeing his younger sister in distress, Ravana roared, ready for war.  His sister stopped him, saying she had learned that Rama and Lakshmana were very powerful; she recommended they get revenge in a different way.  She went on to talk about Sita, emphasizing her beauty and how she should be married to Ravana, as well as suggesting that he kidnap her.  Shurpanaka’s devastation, her persuasion towards revenge and the beauty of Sita excited Ravana’s lust and poisoned his mind.  Thus the plot was proposed and planned.

Ravana’s uncle Maaricha had the ability to change his form.  Becoming a beautiful, golden deer, he roamed near Rama’s hermitage to catch Sita’s attention.  Captivated by the beauty of the deer, wanting to pet it, Sita requested that Rama catch it for her.  Rama went to catch the deer but it led Rama far away.  A bit annoyed by the deer’s evasive techniques, sensing something was not right; Rama shot an arrow at the deer.  The arrow hit Maaricha, but before dying, he shouted out, in Rama’s voice, “Oh Lakshmana! Lakshmana!”

Sita heard this scream.  Worried about Rama’s safety, even afraid for his life, Sita requested Lakshmana to aid his brother.  Lakshmana did not believe the cry was Rama’s, so he refused to go, as Rama’s order had been to stay and guard Sita.  After Sita’s forceful persuasion and insisting behavior, Lakshmana agreed to go search of Rama.  Before leaving, he drew a circle around the hermitage to guard it with mantra, casting a spell that prevented anyone from entering that boundary.

Ravana saw that the coast was clear.  Making use of this opportunity, he disguised himself as an ascetic and came to the hermitage asking for food.  As a good housewife never refuses to give food to an ascetic, the unsuspecting Sita stepped out of Lakshmana’s circle to offer the food, since the ascetic was unable to come into the circle.

At that moment, Ravana turned into himself.  He took Sita along with the earth she was standing on, as he was unable to get close to her due to her chastity and her devotion to Rama.  He put the dug-up earth with Sita on it into his flying chariot, “Pushpaka Vimana,” and flew towards Lankapuri.  As she was being carried away, Sita cried for help and began dropping her jewelry pieces, one-by-one.

Hearing Sita’s cry, Jatayu, the king of birds, confronted Ravana.  Though Jatayu did his best, he was no match for the mighty Ravana.  Ravana cut off one of Jatayu’s wings; mortally wounded Jatayu fell to the ground.  Ravana continued south to reach Lankapuri, and imprisoned Sita in his garden, Ashokavana, guarded by rakshasas.

Meanwhile, Lakshmana found Rama with the dead deer.  Figuring there was some conspiracy in what happened, the brothers rushed back to the hermitage.  They found only strewn rice and the other food Sita had been offering to the ascetic.  Sita was missing.

They began a vigorous search, going about the forest to find her.  They came across ornaments she had dropped one-by-one.  They continued in the direction the ornaments were found.  They found Jatayu.  He’d been saving his last breath to inform Rama that Sita had been abducted in a flying chariot going south.  Rama put Jatayu on his lap with great sorrow; Jatayu died in Rama’s hands.  Rama performed the last rites for Jatayu and continued south.  Rama forged onward, with a broken heart and tears in his eyes shouting, calling “Sita, Sita, Sita…” asking anyone they encountered if they had seen Sita.

Goddess Parvati was sitting next to Lord Shiva on Mt.  Kailasa.  She asked, “My Lord Shiva, has Lord Vishnu forgotten who he is?  Why is he searching for Sita like this?”  Lord Shiva replied, “Why don’t you find out?”  So Goddess Parvati changed herself into an elderly woman and came before Rama.  Rama saw the old woman, and immediately said, “Devi Parvati, please accept my pranams.  How is Lord Shiva?”  Astonished, Goddess Parvati greeted Rama and returned to Kailasa.

Lord Shiva explained, “You are who you are, but when you take the form of a human being, you will have to abide by the rules of human nature, which means you forget your own divine nature.”  Lord Shiva continued, “I have not helped Lord Vishnu in his past incarnations.  I need to help him in this one.”  Goddess Parvati agreed.

After meeting Goddess Parvati, Rama continued his search as though nothing had happened.  During the search, Rama came across a demon named Kabandha who tried to swallow both the brothers.  They fought and killed him.  With his last breath, he thanked them, saying that he had been waiting for them to release him from a curse that made him demoniacal.  He advised the brothers to visit Shabari, an old ascetic living in the nearby forest.

Delighted by their visit, Shabari greeted them with respect and served them food.  Especially she served Rama, offering rare fruits that could be very sweet but were sometimes sour.  To be sure she offered only the best, she first tasted each one to insure that it was ripe and tasty.  Rama was pleased by her intention and loving care, so he whole-heartedly accepted each of the fruits.

She directed them to go to Mount Mathanga.  After blessing her with liberation, Rama traveled to Mount Mathanga, searching for Sita.  Near Mount Mathanga, they come across a great strong monkey, who introduced himself as Hanuman.

More to come…

Following a Path

By Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

In 1969 Swami Satchidananda opened the Woodstock Music Festival, ending with teaching everyone to chant Hari OM.  A modern-day Guru and cultural icon, he was famously quoted as saying, “All paths lead to the same goal.”  This is not the whole quote.  Unfortunately, this partial quote is often used to justify spiritual dabbling.  What he said was, “All paths lead to the same goal, but you have to pick one and follow it to the end.”

Just like a mountain with many paths, you must pick one in order to get to the mountain peak.  If you keep switching trails, you will wander around the mountain forever.  You will certainly have wonderful experiences but you’ll never make it to the top.

In yoga, the goal is the experience of your own Self, the Ultimate Reality within.  Even more, it is about living in that Reality all the time, “Self-Realization.”

You may be motivated by a simpler goal: you do yoga so you will feel better.  This is a great reason to do yoga.  In Svaroopa® yoga you get what you want because this practice excels at healing what ails you.  Pain and stress melt away as you lengthen your tail.  Illness and injury heal more quickly.  Yoga even improves conditions that modern medicine doesn’t know how to treat.

Many different styles of yoga poses are available in the West.  They all provide dramatic physical benefits as well as stress reduction.  However research shows that exercise also provides the same benefits, sometimes even more effectively.  If exercise gives you the same results as yoga, then what’s so special about yoga?

Swami Nirmalananda describes, “When I returned from my Guru’s Ashram, I discovered that yoga was changing in America.  A teacher of another style told me proudly, ‘We’re taking the mysticism out of yoga.’   I was shocked!  I’d given years of my life to learn the mysticism of yoga.  They were doing everything they could to make it merely physical.  It’s no wonder I had to create a new yoga style.”

This means is that it matters what “brand” of yoga you do.  While one will give you beauty and gracefulness, does it free you from anxiety?  Other styles make you sweat or jump in and out of poses, but you may still have back pain.  You can do yoga poses on a trapeze but still get upset when life brings you back down to earth.

Svaroopa® yoga is a mystical science, not merely an athletic endeavor.  This means it gives you mystical experiences, fulfilling the promise made by the ancient sages of India.  Svaroopa® yoga is spiritual yoga.


By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

When you are touched by the raw power of a lightning storm, the quietude of a forest glen or the softness of a deer’s eyes, you are using something in nature to effect an internal change.  It’s like a switch is flicked inside.  You are suddenly stilled.  You are deeply still and profoundly aware.

Yoga says you don’t need an external trigger to experience this deep inner beingness-awareness-bliss — it is your own Self.  Every time you have an experience of the Divine Within, you are irrevocably changed.  It’s not just a change; it’s upliftment.  One Sanskrit text describes it this way,

Tajjah samskaaro’nya-samskaara-prati-bandhee. — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.50

After an experience of The Self, your mind bears an impression of consciousness within it, which prevents other impressions from taking hold.

You must imprint your mind with more experiences of consciousness!  It already has too many imprints that lead you in other directions.  Your mind has the accumulated imprints of all the things you’ve experienced in this life as well as powerful impressions from your previous lifetimes, all impelling you toward repeating the same things again.  To get off the karmic merry-go-round, you must actively intervene in the process or it becomes a “Willy Wonka” tunnel with no escape:

There’s no earthly way of knowing

Which direction we are going

There’s no knowing where we’re rowing

Or which way the river’s flowing…[1]

Upliftment is the key.  Yoga is the science of upliftment.  But you are not being lifted up into another realm; you become more present in this realm, on this earth, in your own body, in your own life.  You become radiant with your own Divine Essence.  The way upward is inward.

This is a different direction than most systems, even most religions, teach you.  There are even meditation systems that say you must transcend this earthly plane, you must be lifted up into the light and that you will only arrive once you leave your body.  Years ago I flew into my then-home in San Diego, arriving to the news that 31 people had killed themselves so they could ascend to a higher level.  This is not yoga.

The yoga poses come from the Tantric Sages who practiced in the Himalayan caves, far away from the mainstream spirituality of the time, partly because mainstream spirituality said you had to reject the body in order to find God.  The tantrics said, “Your own teachings say that Shiva has brought forth all that exists out of His own Divine Beingness.  Thus, everything is holy, even my own body.”

Their spiritual endeavors began with Grace, through a transmission of energy from the Guru, which awakened the yogi’s inner power of upliftment, Kundalini.  As this sacred energy unfurled from tail to top, different yogis had different experiences depending on their personal readiness and individualistic nature.

Those who were more kinesthetic, rather than visual or auditory, experienced physical movements.  Others copied their spontaneous movements, which are today’s yoga poses.  Some yogis believe the forest sages made up the poses, having their disciples stand like a tree or move like a cobra, but the origin of these sacred body movements is in the sacred — not in the mind.

Doing the poses invokes the experience that those initiates were having, the inner experience of your own Divinity.  Svaroopa® yoga excels at this because it is the yoga of Grace.  I have devoted my life to the force of Grace, as did my Guru and his Guru before him.  We focus on core opening so that your spine becomes open and breathing and your spinal energy moves freely.  In other words, while you get the physical benefits that Svaroopa® yoga promises, you are getting more.

Yoga guarantees the upliftment of your own consciousness while you live in your body, a body that is being purified and made sacred through your breathing and your poses.  These changes in your body makes you able to see and to be the Divine Reality.  You also see, and even revel in, a Divine World made of out one thing:  Shiva.

Originally published July 2012

[1] Excerpt from “Wondrous Boat Ride,” song from the 2005 movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

Upliftment is More than Personal Growth

By Swami Nirmalananda

Life makes sure you continue to grow and change whether you want to or not.  Life pushes you through so many lessons you try to avoid.  It’s a karmic truth.  But yogis do it differently.  Yogis are proactive about change, a specific type of change called upliftment.

Many people actively seek out self-improvement through the arts, travel, continuing their education, therapy or introspection, or an ever-expanding circle of people and experiences.  As wonderful as these growth experiences are, they are not the same as upliftment.  The upliftment of your own consciousness is yoga’s promise, even when you are simply doing a few poses to improve your physical condition.  Yoga sneaks up on you.

The physical changes provided by Svaroopa® yoga’s core opening have a profound effect on your body, but also on your mind and psyche.

  • While increased flexibility protects you from injury, even making your tissues healthier and younger, it also makes your mind more flexible, more adaptable and resilient.
  • As your muscles lengthen and become less dense, your mind and heart are becoming more open.
  • Your breathing capacity expands as your core opens up. This physical change makes you feel less contracted as a person, more expansive, even generous and compassionate.
  • As your spine lifts and lengthens, you stand taller in the world, more willing to be authentically you, as well as to speak up for yourself and others.
  • As your rib cage opens, your heart opens. You become more understanding of others and more compassionate, even to those who have hurt you in the past, whether you are in communication with them or not.
  • As your tailbone lengthens, you become free from fear. Anxiety cannot take over your mind anymore, so you have lots of extra energy and enthusiasm for life.  What is there that you cannot do?

When I meet someone new, which often happens on an airplane, they usually ask what I do.  I give them an easy answer, “I teach yoga.”  Thirty years ago they answered me, “Yogurt?”  Now they say, “I should do that.”  They all know they should be doing yoga.  They all know that yoga would be good for their body.  They even know that yoga offers something more, which they prove to me by saying, “Yoga is good for stress, right?  I need to learn how to relax.”

What they don’t know is that yoga is doing more to you, with every yoga-breath and every yoga pose.  It’s a sneaky system:  it will make you spiritual even if you didn’t want to be.  It’s deeply fulfilling.  It makes life worthwhile.

Your religion may be important to you, so you don’t need the spirituality that yoga provides.  How fortunate you are!  Yet yoga will still offer you spiritual benefits, deepening what you get from your church or temple.  Many yogis find their religious background to be unsatisfying, yet they still have the innate human hunger for the experience of the Divine.  Our modern world reinforces nature as a place to go to be touched by God.  Maybe music does it, or maybe for you it’s art that does it, or you get it through visiting ancient sites or monuments.  Yoga does it too.  Yoga specializes in Divinity — yours.  Yoga opens your inner experience of your own Divine Essence, called svaroopa, your own Self.

First published July 2012