Monthly Archives: July 2019

Relaxation & Awareness

by Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

“Become aware of your toes, all ten toes, all at the same time…”

Your Svaroopa® yoga class begins with these words, while you are reclining in Shavasana.  Your teacher guides you progressively through each area of your body in turn. Yet this is not a body inventory.  We are not doing this so that you will count your toes and fingers, checking that you have every body part.  Also, it is not an analysis of how you look to yourself or others.  It is not even about labeling parts of your body as good/bad, painful/not painful, want/don’t want, etc.   Usually when you look at your body you have some of these types of thoughts:  “How do I look?  How am I doing?”

The Guided Awareness is a consciousness practice.  This means it is a training in consciousness, a training in pure awareness.  Unfortunately when you do a body inventory or analysis, you’re mixing thoughts into your awareness.  Such thoughts are like a stream of pollutants, actually making the inherent power of your own awareness less powerful. In addition, most thoughts are toxic.  Think about it. In fact, I dare you to think a non-toxic thought!

Of course there are many non-toxic thoughts you could think, but the point is that you rarely use your mind this way.  Of course, you may have already mastered this and habitually think non-toxic thoughts, almost of the time.  Unfortunately, non-toxic thoughts are more prevalent. Yet, to be “aware” (without thought) is a whole different thing.  The power of pure awareness.

Vidyadevi shares, “Early on, I discovered that if I was watching TV or my mind was busy, the poses didn’t make my body feel better.  I had to be ‘in it’ for it to work.  Being present makes a difference.”

In fact, this is what yoga is all about — about you being present.  Swami Nirmalananda describes it this way, “The practices make you present in your body and breath; they make you present in your life; they make you present within yourself.  And when you’re present, you’ve got you.”

Published in January 2014

This Path Embraces the Whole of Life

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

Yoga’s practices provide you the experience of your Self as the whole ocean of Consciousness.  Especially with the spinal decompression effects of Svaroopa® yoga poses, these experiences are easier to access and they last for longer periods of time.  To attain the permanent state, your most important practice is meditation.  Yet it is mantra that gives you meditation, so you must repeat mantra.

If you’re interested in improving your body, your most important practice is Ujjayi Pranayama.  If you’re interested in improving your life, seva (volunteering) is the most important practice.  Swamiji says, “So many practices, so little time.”  You must choose which practices to do with your available time.

Of course you can do all of them, but don’t think that the goal is to be doing yoga all the time.  This is not about increasing your yoga time so that you can crowd out the other parts of your life, especially the parts that are painful or uncomfortable.  This is not about using yoga to withdraw from life and relationships.  It’s not even about becoming established in a steady state of all-knowing, ever-blissful Beingness.  If that were the goal, this wouldn’t be a tantric path.  This path embraces the whole of life, the whole of Consciousness, recognizing the Divine in the mundane and the mundane as the Divine.

Svaroopa® yoga practices are tools to open up your inner experience.  They are doorways to finding the whole universe that is within your body.  The promise is that, when you open your eyes, you’ll remain in that profound inner state.  You won’t lose your Self when you go back to your life.  You’ll recognize everything you see and every person you meet as another form of embodied Consciousness, the One Reality in a multiplicity of wonderfully different packages.

Every interaction, whether it’s with a friend or a stranger, becomes a dance of the Divine meeting the Divine, Consciousness playing with Consciousness.  Life will still bring you tough stuff.  You’ll still experience pain.  This is because you’ve got karma.  But you’ll no longer suffer in the midst of painful experiences, nor suffer when you cannot attain pleasurable experiences.  Both pleasure and pain are Consciousness; neither one is more desirable than the other.  Pleasure won’t make you any fuller because you’re already full.  Pain won’t diminish you because nothing can take you away from your Self, because there’s nothing that’s not you.

Swamiji remembers her Guru explaining it so beautifully, that you will find only your own home everywhere you go.  You will see that there is no reason to worry. You will meet only yourself everywhere you go, because there is no one else and nothing else in the universe.  You are the One who has become all that exists.  When you see the world, you are looking into the mirror of your Divinity all the time.

Living from the depth of your own embodied Beingness, fully present and engaged in the world that you recognize and celebrate as the same embodied Reality.  This is your future.  Do more yoga (and meditation).

Originally published in May 2014

Embodied Reality

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

If we could be there with you, we could ask you a simple question in a very personal way, “Who are you?”  What’s the first thing that pops into your mind?  Would you say, “I’m a yogi,” or “I’m a wife/husband,” or “I’m a parent?”  Instead, what if your very first thought was, “I am Consciousness.”

The goal is to abide in svaroopa-vidya, the experiential knowing of yourself as Consciousness-itself.  Once you know, you will never not know.  What’s more, you will recognize everyone and everything as an embodiment of the same Divine Reality.  This description of your future comes from a yogic text:

Chidaananda laabhe chetya-maane.svapi.  Chidaikaatmya pratipatti daardhya.m jiivamukti.h.  — Pratyabhijnahrdayam 16

When the bliss of Consciousness is attained, you are established in the permanent identity of Consciousness, while you experience your body and all objects as forms of Consciousness.  This is liberation while alive.

You don’t yet live in that knowingness all the time.  Instead, you get your sense of identity and personal meaning from your body, your relationships, your job, your age, your gender, your skills, etc.  Think of it all in a new way:  you have a body, an age, a job, but these are things you have — not things you are!

All these outer realities are important to you, yet they will inevitably change.  You are the unchangeable capital-R Reality that is hidden at a deeper level within.  Each of your identities is limited compared to who you really are at the deepest level.  The sages describe it like the ocean.  You are the whole ocean, with each identity being a current in the ocean.  When you’re caught up in the stuff of life, you’re caught in a current, buffeted by the waves.  You must dive deeper into your Self, so you know that you are the whole ocean, including the currents and the waves.

Svaroopa® yoga gives you powerful tastes of this deep, calm, peaceful, blissful, expanded state, because your innermost essence opens up when you decompress your spine.  Plus the Shavasana at the beginning and end of your classes settle you deeper within.  In addition, you are used to the halo effect of your practices, the way your yogic state affects how you show up for life:  you are nicer to your family; you take difficult things in stride; your internal pressures lessen or dissolve.  Unfortunately, they come back.  This happens because your state is not yet steady; you are not yet established in svaroopavidya, the experiential knowing of your own Self.

Svaroopa® yoga poses give you a temporary experience of peace and bliss.  When you have this experience, you have stepped into in the beginning stages of enlightenment.  Then you lose it.  So you need to do more yoga, to experience the peace and bliss of your own Self again.  And again.  And again, every time you do core opening poses.

Instead of experiencing peace and bliss, what if you experience yourself as the source of peace and bliss?  This sutra says you can experience this, and that it will be all of the time.  How?  By doing more yoga.  All of yoga’s practices teach you to be a scuba diver, to dive beneath the waves and swim in the vast inner space of consciousness — your own Self.  Swamiji describes the process in an informal sutra:

Again, again and again turns into always.

Originally published May 2014

Krishna Avatar & Mahabharata

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

The last of Lord Vishnu’s avatars that have already taken place are the eighth, Balarama (the powerful one) and the ninth, Krishna (the one with dark complexion).  His avatar that will come in the future is Kalki.

As Rama Avatar, Adhishesha incarnated as Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama.  He obeyed Rama and spent his entire life to serving him.  Lord Vishnu wanted to return the favor in His next incarnation: to honor Adhishesha’s devotion he made him be one of his Avatars while also making him his elder brother.  Therefore, Balarama Avatar was at the same time of the Krishna Avatar, Krishna being the younger brother of Balarama,

Krishna always obeyed Balarama; Balarama protected Krishna at all costs.  Unlike Krishna, Balarama was fair complexioned.  Otherwise they looked alike in many aspects.  Both these avatars of Lord Vishnu will be written in the same story, which is part of the great epic Mahabharata.

What is the Mahabharata?

The Mahabharata is the longest epic poem in the world.  It consists of numerous branches of stories, with hundreds of characters shaping the story line.  With over 100,000 slokas (a couplet), meaning 200,000 individual verse lines, and long prose passages, it has around 1.8 million total words.  It is about ten times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined, nearly four times the length of the Ramayana.

In the Indian tradition Mahabharata is sometimes called the fifth Veda, after the well-known four, Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.  In the Mahabharata, unlike Rama in the Ramayana, Krishna uses some of his divine powers to get things done, steering the way through the evil he is trying to overcome.

Through all of Lord Vishnu’s avatars, there is a progression in where good and evil reside.  In the first few avatars, they were far apart in different worlds. Then in Vamana and Parashurama Avatars, they came into the same world.  In Rama Avatar they came to the same area in the planet.  In Krishna Avatar. Good and evil came into the same family.

Now, we are in Kali Yuga, with good and evil residing in the same person.  The yugas (ages) have progressed, from Satya Yuga to Treta Yuga, to Dvapara Yuga and now to Kali Yuga.  In this cosmic timeline, the state of affairs has degraded from all good to mostly evil.  With this progression, who can predict what Lord Vishnu will have to do and what powers he will have to use in his final avatar, Kalki?

The Mahabharata is divided into 18 sections or books, with many sub-stories supporting the main story line.  The main story line revolves around two groups of cousins, the Kaurava and the Panḍava princes, and the war between them, the Kurukshetra War.

On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the Bhagavad Gita was given to the world by Krishna as a teaching to Arjuna, one of the Pandava cousins in the war.  The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most important texts of ancient India.  The Bhagavad Gita presents a synthesis of Hindu ideas about dharma, theistic bhakti and the yogic paths to liberation or self-realization.  It talks about four paths to spirituality: karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga and jnana yoga.

Known as the “Father of the India,” Mahatma Gandhi referred to the Bhagavad Gita as his “spiritual dictionary.”  He used it as a guide in leading the Liberation Movement of India, helping gain independence from the British without a war, through upholding ahimsa (non-harming).

While Krishna and Balarama are the third set of cousins in the Mahabharata, Krishna is the center of all the drama that takes place.  He directs everything to perfection, teaching humans about what evil can bring about in the world.  In contrast to Rama Avatar, where Lord Vishnu as Rama shows the world how a person should live, in Krishna Avatar he shows how people should not live.

Vyasa (often called Veda Vyasa) is the author of this great epic.  He is credited with classifying the Vedas, writing the eighteen Puranas, writing the Yoga Bhasya (a commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras), and composing the Mahabharata, among other things.

It is mentioned in the first section of The Mahabharata, that Lord Ganesha wrote down the text as Veda Vyasa dictated it.  As per the legend, Vyasa wanted to compose the Mahabharata.  For this he needed a very intelligent person to write it down.  So he prayed to Lord Brahma to help him find such a person.  Brahma said that the only one capable of handling such a task would be none other than Lord Ganesha.  Vyasa prayed to Lord Ganesha, requesting him to help.

With a smile, Lord Ganesha agreed to Vyasa’s request but under one condition.  Ganesha will not stop writing once he starts the work and, if at any point Vyasa lags, then Ganesha would stop writing and Vyasa would need to find someone else.  Vyasa agreed to the condition and made one of his own.  He requested that Lord Ganesha needs to understand each sloka before writing it down.  This bought Vyasa some time to in order compose the following sloka.

The writing of the Mahabharata began; Lord Ganesha was writing and Vyasa was dictating.  Halfway through, Lord Ganesha’s pen broke.  As he had given his word that he would not stop writing, he broke off one of his tusks in order to continue writing.  This is one of the many legends regarding Lord Ganesha’s one broken tusk.

Vyasa, son of Rishi Parasara, gave the Mahabharata to his son, Sukha Muni and his other disciples.  The sage Narada gave this knowledge to the devas, and Sukar gave it to the gandharvas, yakshas and the rakshasas.  Sage Vaisampayana gave this knowledge to the earthlings at a great yaj~na performed by Janamejaya, the great grandson of the Pandava prince Arjuna.  This knowledge was also shared by Suthar to all the rishis lived in the Naimisaranya forest.  This is how the Mahabharata reached our modern times.

We are concentrating on Krishna’s and Balarama’s life story, with the Mahabharata in the background.  In other words, if focused on the Mahabharata as the story, the start and progress of the story line would be different.  Yet the entire plot will be covered.

We will start with Krishna’s and Balarama’s birth, their growth, the Krishna leelas (mischiefs), their young age, Radha and Krishna, Kamsa’s (Krishna’s uncle’s) end, entering into adulthood, Balarama’s wedding and Krishna and Rukmini.  Then we will move on to the Pandava and Kaurava brothers’ ancestors, Pandavas’ and Kauravas’ birth, their growth, the conflict between these cousins, the dice game, Pandava brothers’ twelve years of exile and year incognito, the peace talks, the Bhagavadgita and Kurukshetra War.  Also we will covering Jaya and Vijaya’s liberation from their curse, due to their third human birth as Shishupala and Dantavakra, enemies of Krishna Avatar.

Balarama is usually depicted in blue garments, wearing bracelets and armlets.  His weapons are the plow (hala) and the mace (gadaa).  His hair is tied in a topknot, showing his strength, the reason for his name.

Krishna is often depicted wearing a peacock feather on his wreath/crown.  Playing the flute, he is usually shown standing with one leg bent in front of the other.  He is sometimes shown with cows or calves, which symbolizes the divine herdsman, herding the souls.

The story begins in the next installment.