Monthly Archives: May 2019

Sanskrit — The Language of Yoga

By Sadguru Nirmalananda Saraswati

The oldest known language, Sanskrit is called the language of the gods.  It even has a verb conjugation you use only when speaking to God.  “Devanagari” is the name of the alphabet, like Cyrillic is the name of the script used for the Russian language.  Deva (देव) means god, while naga (नाग) means snake, referring to the coiled energy that brings the universe into existence.  Of course, it also names the coiled Kundalini, which certain Sanskrit mantras are designed to activate or awaken.

Svaroopa® yoga teachers often say your pose names in Sanskrit as well as English.  The English name helps you learn how to do the pose, but the Sanskrit name helps you go farther into it.  It’s easy to try.  Stand up and lean your torso forward, bending at your hips for a simple Uttanasana, letting your arms hang toward the floor.   Repeat “Standing Forward Bend” for 45 seconds.  Stay in the pose and say “Uttanasana” (oot-awn-AAW-saw-naw) for 45 seconds.  See what happens.  You’ll prove how powerful Sanskrit really is.

The shape of each Sanskrit letter maps the way its sound reverberates in your head, awakening the thousand-petaled lotus at the top.  Learning to use your mouth, tongue and breath to enunciate the words properly is a lesson in ecstasy.  I’ve been chanting in Sanskrit for over 40 years and know how Grace-filled this yoga practice is.  I got it from one who knows, the great yogi who gave me everything, and who empowered me to give it all to you.  Yoga is so much more than poses!

Baba always emphasized chanting in Sanskrit rather than learning the language.  Of course, I’ve picked up technical terminology along the way, just like you learn important words in other languages (i.e. burrito and lasagna).  My little joke has truth in it, for the important Sanskrit terms are about you being fed on a spiritual level (i.e. shaktipat and darshan).

Many words have no direct translation into English, like svaroopa and ahamkara.  Self is the word used to translate them both, distinguished by a “capital-S” or a “small-s” to clarify which level of personhood is being described.  But that doesn’t work well when speaking, or even at the beginning of a sentence.

Svaroopa is your “true form,” meaning your inherent Divinity.  Your body and mind are merely the outer levels of the multiple dimensions of your being.  The science of yoga gives you tools to explore the depths and vastness within.  Svaroopa® yoga specializes in this, from a powerfully different way of doing the poses to an easy and deep meditation technology.

Ahamkara means “I am what I do.”  It is how you construct a superficial sense of self, constantly judging yourself compared to others, hopefully feeling self-respect and a sense of self-worth.  It is an activity of your mind, which keeps your mind very very busy.

When you know your own svaroopa, you still do things in the world, but you’re not looking for them to give you a sense of self.  It’s like going to an ATM.  When you want your relationships and actions to build up your ahamkara (small-s self), you’re trying to withdraw money from the machine.  When you base your sense of self in svaroopa (capital-S Self), you’re making a deposit.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

To your Inherent Divinity, again and again I bow.

Rama Avatar, Part 10

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Sita is living in Valmiki’s forest Ashram while Lord Rama, her husband, is performing the Ashvamedha yaj~na to benefit his kingdom and all the people in it.

The yajna horse wandered around the land unchallenged, ending up near Valmiki’s ashram on its way back to Ayodhya.  Lava and Kusha found out about Rama’s horse from their friends, so they caught the horse and tied it to a tree nearby, specifically so their mother would not know about it.  Lava stayed to guard the horse with a few friends while Kusha went to get the flowers for his mother’s puja.

Shatrugna and his army followed the horse, arriving at the Ashram.  The guards at the front of the group were surprised to see the horse held captive by acetic children.  They thought the kids were playing a joke, advised them not to interfere in royal business and went towards the horse to untie it.  An arrow from Lava’s bow landed right in front of the guard’s feet.  The guards fought back, but were defeated in a minute.  They ran to Shatrugna.

Shatrugna came over and found Lava and his friends.  Shatrugna  was amazed that an ascetic child defeated the guards.  Thinking the guards had been fooled, Shatrugna politely asked the children to release the horse.  However, they were very serious about the matter and refused to do so.  Not knowing the powers they had received from their Guru Valmiki, Shatrugna challenged them to a battle for the horse.  He and the rest of the Ayodhya army were defeated instantly by Lava.

The news about Shatrugna’s defeat reached the palace, as well as the fact that Shatrugna, the army and the horse were in captivity.  Lakshmana rounded up the rest of their troops and went there.  He also found these lovely little boys, Lava leading them, and thought that Shatrugna must have made some mistake to end up in the fate he was.

Thinking that these were just ascetic children, not knowing how Valmiki trained them for battle, Lakshmana started talking to them, asking them to release the horse and his brother Shatrugna.

When Lava realized it was Lakshmana speaking, he condemned Lakshmana for leaving a pregnant woman (Sita) in the forest without any help.  As usual, everyone knows Lakshmana is very short tempered.  Thus, the peace talks didn’t last long.  The battle between Lava and Lakshmana began.  Lava fought bravely and bound all the troops Lakshmana brought.

Unable to withstand Lava’s skill, Lakshmana used his “Nagastra” (arrow of the cobra) to tie him up.  Lakshmana carried Lava to the chariot, preparing to liberate the horse, Shatrugna and the army.  The other children escaped, taking the news to Kusha, who was just returning from gathering flowers for Sita.  Kusha immediately jumped in front of Lakshmana. stopping him from liberating the horse.  He demanded that Lakshmana free Lava.

Lakshmana advised Kusha not to make the same mistake his brother had made by confronting him.  Kusha invited him to a battle to settle the matter.  The fight was intense.  It was a desperate situation, needing to free his brother, so Kusha used one of the special arrows given by his Guru Valmiki, by which he was able to defeat Lakshmana.  Then Kusha unbound Lava and imprisoned Lakshmana.  Then the twins sent one of warriors to inform Rama what had transpired.

The messenger came to Rama with the news.  Rama was astonished that two ascetic children had defeated the mighty Ramarajya troops, and especially his brothers.  He decided to go in person.  As usual, accompanied by Hanuman, Rama arrived and found the two ascetic children were those who sang the Ramayana at the palace.  Like his brothers, Rama tried to make peace by talking to them.  They were not ready to listen, decisively refusing to release the horse.  They called Rama out for a battle, saying he had no right to do the yaj~na without his wife Sita.

Watching all this, Hanuman took on his gargantuan form, saying they would have to go through him first to get to Rama.  Knowing it is impossible to win a battle with Hanuman, Lava and Kusha said that it would be very easy and whispered to their friends to start the repetition of “Sri Rama.”  All the other children started dancing and singing “Sri Rama.”  In an instant, Hanuman came back to his normal form and started dancing and singing with the children.  The children slowly moved towards the Ashram, Hanuman following them, dancing and chanting.  Rama was amazed to see this happen, realizing the children were no simple matter.  Yet he had no other option, so he resolved to fight with them.  The fight began, Rama battling Lava and Kusha.

The children and Hanuman reached the ashram.  Mesmerized, Hanuman came back to his senses, finding himself in Valmiki’s Ashram.  Hearing the chanting of Mata Lalitha Devi’s mantra by a very familiar voice, he jumped up in joy, recognizing it as Sita’s.  He ran into the puja, fell down at Sita’s feet, and shouted, “I found Sita Devi again, I found Sita Devi again…”

All the ascetics, who had been with Sita all these years, we astonished.  Everyone fell at Sita’s feet.  Suddenly Hanuman realized this was the area where he left Sita years ago, when the young sages found her.  Putting everything together, it occurred to him that the twin children must be none other than Sita’s.

Hanuman trembled, thinking of the fight that was happening between father and sons.  He explained what had happened in the past few days, between Rama’s yaj~na horse and the twins.  He also told her about the battles that had taken place and the one now taking place.  Sita was in the middle of a puja that should be uninterrupted, but realized the gravity of the situation.  Even though the other ascetics tried to stop her, she ran out, asking Mata Lalitha Devi for forgiveness for the interruption in the puja.

Sita and Hanuman came to the battleground, seeing that Rama, as a last resort, had taken the “Ramaastra” in his hand to shoot it towards the twins.  Sita shouted, “Stop!”  Hearing the voice of Sita, Rama dropped his bow and arrow, looking at her and saying, “That is my Sita’s voice…”

Sita grabbed both Lava and Kusha, sobbing, “How could you take up arms against your father?  It is all my fault!”  Lava and Kusha were stunned by their mother’s words, and quietly asked, “Are you Rama’s Sita Devi?”  Sita nodded her head and hugged them both.

When she released them, Lava and Kusha fell on Rama’s feet, “Forgive us father!  We have committed a crime by taking up arms against you, not knowing that you are our father.  Please forgive us!”  Rama said, “The crime was mine, banishing my beloved Sita from Ayodhya and being separated from her all this while, missing my children’s youth years.”  He hugged both Lava and Kusha.  Looking at the father and sons united, Sita was so happy.  Rama asked Sita to come to Ayodhya with him.

Refusing, she said she cannot come to Ayodhya again.  Bidding farewell, she called upon her mother, Mother Earth, to take her into her arms if Sita is pure in her heart and has not lost her chastity.  As soon as she uttered those words, the earth split open.  Up came Mother Earth, took Sita in her arms and disappeared into the split earth.  Unable to do anything to stop Sita, Rama, the twins and Hanuman cried their eyes out.

Everyone returned to Ayodhya with a very heavy heart.  Rama conducted the Ashvamedha Yaj~na with Sita’s statue at his side, as planned.  Lava and Kusha helped their father with the yaj~na.  Slowly, by the Ashvamedha Yaj~na effects, Ayodhya started flourishing again.  Now that the kingdom was getting back to its glory days, Rama started thinking about giving the kingdom’s rule to the children, both his and his brothers’.

One day while he was thinking about his plan, a guard announced that a sage was waiting to see him.  Immediately, Rama ordered the guard to show him in.  The sage came in and Rama offered him a seat.  The sage said, with a little hesitation, you need to know who I am before you offer me a seat.  Rama replied that whoever who visits, even if it is a foe, the first order of business is to extend hospitality.

After the greetings, the sage said that Lord Brahma sent him, and that they need to have a private meeting, with no one disturbing them.  Immediately, Rama called upon Lakshmana to make sure no one disturbed them, to guard the door at all cost.  As usual, taking Rama’s command, Lakshmana stood guard at the door.

Inside, the sage revealed his true identity as Yama-Dharma-Raja, the God of Dharma in charge of ending lives (God of Death).  He continued that he had been instructed by Brahma to give prior notice to avatars such as Rama about their return time approaching.  He also pointed out that Shri Lakshmi Devi, who was with Rama as Sita in this world, had already returned to Vaikuntha, and that Rama needed to send Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrugna before his own return.

Outside, Lakshmana was guarding.  The great sage Durvasa, son of Atiri, arrived, wanting to meet Rama to discuss an urgent matter.  Lakshmana tried his best to calm him and have him wait, but Durvasa became very agitated.  Knowing Durvasa to be both short tempered and powerful, Lakshmana knocked on the door hesitantly.  He knew he was disobeying Rama’s order for the first time ever, but it was to evade sage Durvasa’s curse that would destroy Rama’s whole lineage.

The discussion between Rama and Yama-Dharma-Raja was coming to an end.  Knowing that Lakshmana would not knock without a pressing need, Rama opened the door.  Meanwhile Yama-Dharma-Raja again disguised himself as the sage who had entered earlier.

Lakshmana explained the reason he disturbed them, due to the visit of sage Durvasa.  Thanking the sage (Yama-Dharma-Raja), Rama extended his hospitality to sage Durvasa.  After sage Durvasa left, Rama sat down to consider how he could free himself from the Ayodhya kingdom.  Sita had already gone.  He didn’t need any other reason to complete his mission as avatar.

Rama came up with a plan to divide the country and give it to all 8 children, his and his brothers’, before leaving the earth.  Rama called Lakshmana in and revealed the visit by Yama-Dharma-Raja.  He explained that Lakshmana must go Vaikuntha before himself.  Lakshmana jumped up, saying that the one thing guaranteed is that all who are born in this world have an exit day.  He said that he hoped he wouldn’t have to wait long in Vaikuntha for Rama to arrive.

As Rama’s plan was being set in motion, the world around seemed to react.  Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra died one after the other, in very short intervals.  All four brothers felt sad and starting talking about mothers.  Lakshmana said he needed to clear the air, since people talked ill about Kaikeyi’s actions in the past.  He said, “Our mother Kaikeyi’s actions, in sending our brother Rama to the forest, was to keep her husband Dasaratha’s promise to her own father Ashwapati.  Ashwapati’s grandson must be the heir to the throne.  Everyone has misunderstood her actions erroneously.”

Rama was happy that this fact, which he already knew, had been brought to light by Lakshmana for the world to know.  After this, Lakshmana said his goodbyes to everyone.  He went to the Sarayu River, dipped himself in the water and saw Indra come in his flying chariot to take him to Vaikuntha.  Rama was devastated that Lakshmana was not with him anymore.

Dividing the country up and naming the rulers for each portion happened very quickly after.  The news about Lakshmana’s departure and Rama’s planned departure spread like wildfire.  The citizens of Ayodhya were there with Hanuman, who obviously never released Rama from his sight.  Rama says that he will not take Hanuman with him.  Instead Rama commanded Hanuman to be on earth as a chiranjivi (immortal), continuing to repeat Rama’s name.  With tears in his eyes, the never disobeying Hanuman accepted Rama’s command, looking at Rama dipping in the Sarayu River to go to Vaikuntha.  The children and Hanuman remained with a very heavy heart.

Sarayu River – Ayodhya (today)

It is said that Hanuman lives on this earth eternally.  He will be at any and every place where the name “Rama” is spoken, even only once.  If you are in trouble, all you need do is call out Rama’s name once and Hanuman will be there to take care of you.  Jay Shri Ram!

Om Namah Shivaya

All at the Same Time

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

There are so many wonderful strategies for managing money, successful relationships, improving your health, etc.  You do these things to attain happiness by improving your life.  Yoga also improves your life and makes you happy, though yoga’s true goal is spiritual upliftment.  The ancient teachings speed you toward attaining the ultimate — the knowing of your own inherent Divinity.  Yoga calls this your “Self.”

A powerful yogic strategy is outlined in the “eight limbs” of yoga.  These important practices and how they move you toward your Self.

Yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana
dhyana samadhayo’stav angani — Yoga Sutras 2.29

This is a “list sutra,” meaning it lists the practices, while explaining more fully them in later sutras.

  1. Yama: restraints, including:
    Ahimsa — non-harming                    Brahmacharya — celibacy
    Satya — non-lying                              Aparigraha — non-greed
    Asteya — non-stealing
  2. Niyama: observances, including:
    Shauca — purity, purification           Svadhyaya — study of the texts on the Self
    Samtosha — contentment                Ishvara-pranidhana — surrender to God
    Tapas —  doing the hard stuff
  3. Asana: body positions, postures
  4. Pranayama: working with your breath and the pauses between your breaths
  5. Pratyahara: turning your attention inward
  6. Dharana: focusing inward, contemplation
  7. Dhyana: meditation
  8. Samadhi: inner absorption

In Sanskrit, these eight limbs are called “ashtanga” (ashta means eight; anga means aspect, angle or limb).  A modern yoga style is called Ashtanga Yoga because the founder, Pattabhi Jois, describes all eight limbs happening during their aerobic sequences.  Patanjali’s description is from 2,000 or more years ago, and emphasizes the seated pose, specifically so you can comfortably sit still, for long and delicious meditations.

Anga does not mean hierarchical levels or rungs on a ladder.  You don’t have to do the limbs in order.  It’s more like a climbing tree:  you can skip some limbs and still climb to the top.  Thus, many Westerners begin with the third limb, yoga poses, or with the seventh limb, meditation.

Fortunately, when you skip limbs, like with yogis who begin at asana (poses), the limbs you skipped happen to you automatically.  You may not understand what’s happening because you didn’t get the teachings about the earlier practices.  It can be surprising when, after starting yoga classes, you find you’re becoming a vegetarian (ahimsa – non-harming).  Or you realize that you’ve lost interest in shopping (aparigraha — non-greediness).  You may discover the bliss of chanting (ishvara-pranidhana) and begin studying yoga texts (svadhyaya).  Yoga is happening to you!

Vidyadevi reports, “A regular yoga therapy client complained that she didn’t like drinking alcohol anymore because she didn’t feel good the next day.  Shaucha (purity) was happening for her.  She wasn’t too happy about it.”

These are signs of spiritual progress.  Yoga is cultivating an inner alignment with your own Divine Self by basically “cleaning up your act”  This means “your act” has been getting in your way of your spiritual upliftment.  No matter the limb in which you start this process, you get the whole process.  It’s like walking into a room.  No matter which doorway you enter through, you still get the whole room.

Originally published January 2018

Body, Mind & Beyond Both

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

You may think yoga is about your body while meditation is about your mind.  Both are partial truths, but partial truths are the worst kind.  What you want is the “capital-T Truth,” the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, “so help you God.”  Yoga says you will need God’s help to find God.  Yoga and meditation are both about finding the right place to look.  And using the right tools.

In order to meditate, you need to be able to sit.  Thus, you’ll probably need some yoga poses to help you with your body.  Yoga’s ultimate pose is the seated pose.  It’s specific to getting enlightened.  You need to sit in order to delve into your own existence.

Our tradition is a Shaktipat tradition, one that uses the power of God’s Grace to reveal God’s presence, within you, being you.  Once you’ve received the Great Awakening (maha-shaktipat diksha), you must meditate in order to give Kundalini (the meditative energy) time to climb your spine.  This opens into the exploration of the inner realms of your own being, all the way to your inner Divinity.  Every time.  So easy.  So deep.

Let’s say you were able to procure a seat on one of the rocket ships going into outer space.  you’ve trained for this scientific mission to explore the farthest reaches of deep space. You’ve prepared your body for the rigors of deep space travel.  Even now, you can easily find online workout plans to train like an astronaut, moving your body into different angles to stretch and strengthen.  On the launch pad, after all your preparation, you are sitting in the rocket for lift-off.  The rocket, powered by potent liquid propellants, will shoot straight up into the heavens.

Your asana practice works like this.  Your preliminary yoga poses prepare you for your trip inward, and then you sit for “lift-in.”  The energy that climbs your spine, Kundalini, is the rocket fuel.  This energy takes you up toward the inner sky, the cosmic reality of your own inherent Divinity.

This energy does not move horizontally along the floor.  This means you must get up from Shavasana and sit.  You are propelled inward very quickly and deeply as you sit and repeat the mantra of this tradition, available from Swami Nirmalananda online.  You are now an explorer in the inner realms of your own being, discovering your own essence, the source of the universe.

This is why Svaroopa® yoga teachers emphasize the seated poses.  Our first Teacher Training immersion, Foundations, begins with seated poses.  We return to them many times in the two or more years of further training.  Our final module focuses again on the seated poses, precisely because they are the most important poses.  In this spiritual process of interiorization, the seated pose is the gateway to the progressively more powerful practices in the eight limbs.

Sthira-sukham-aasanam — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.46

Asana is the seated pose, easy and upright [as the beginning point of meditation].[1]

How do you get to the point that you are able to sit? Just as Patanjali recommends, you work on your mind and lifestyle, and then cultivate your body’s ability to sit in easy, upright stillness.  While the sutra defines what an asana is, the poses are not the point of the sutra.  Funny, isn’t it?  Poses are not the point of yoga practice.  Sitting is the point.

Swami Nirmalananda says, “Simply sitting still quiets your mind.  Patanjali explains this in his following sutras, describing how your breath smooths out and suspends into timelessness.  It even happens when you watch the ocean or the night sky.  Yet the inner awakening of Shaktipat offers more, a whole level of inner experience that Patanjali does not describe.  For this, you have to study with a Shaktipat Master, as I did.”

Once you’ve received Shaktipat from such a Master, you have the experience that those yogis in the high Himalayas sought, the inner knowing of your own Divinity.  Svaroopa® yoga is the Yoga of Grace, which is the revelation of your own Divinity.  This is the gift given by such great beings.  Not only mantra, but our core opening poses can invoke your inner awakening.  To cooperate with it, after your yoga practice, sit.  Settle into your easy upright seated position as a way to soften into the deeper dimensions of your own Being.  Your Self is not so far away.  Just sit.

Previously published May 2018

[1] Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda