Monthly Archives: November 2019

Flowing with Life

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Flow is a technical term in yoga.  It’s not about moving your body.  Instead it’s about living in a continuous ecstatic state called “turiya” in Sanskrit.  This is one of these words that have no exact equivalent in English, because it names something that we simply don’t discuss in our everyday use of the English language.  Translated as “the fourth state,” it names a level of inner experience that is deeper than thought.  It is the constant background of beingness, just behind where you usually find your mind.

It is called the fourth state because there are three others:  waking, dream and deep sleep.  Everyone knows these three states, cycling between them 24/7.  But even while you are awake, there is this deeper level of knowingness and beingness inside.  Even when you are dreaming, and even when you are sleeping, there is this deeper level of your own existence.

You already know this because you have experienced this before.  Have you ever had a dream that you knew you were dreaming while you were dreaming?  Or maybe you had a time that you knew you were sleeping while you were asleep.  Who’s the you that knew you were sleeping or dreaming?  This is the you that is your real essence – svaroopa, atman, Self, divine essence, svaroopa, Shiva.  It’s there now.  You are there now.  You are here, now.  You are Shiva.

Maybe you have experienced your own Self in Shavasana. While your teacher was guiding you through your awareness of each area of your body, you were deeper in there, somewhere in there.  Maybe you could hear her or his words, or maybe not.  But you were deeper, and you knew it.  Or maybe you were deeper and you didn’t know it until you “bobbed” out, and then you wanted to go back to where you had been – even though you didn’t know where it was, or how to get back.  But you knew it was good.  Really really good.

That’s the Self.  That’s your own Divine Essence.  That’s Shiva.  Unfortunately your ability to know your Self at this level is currently limited.  Your access is short-lived and too infrequent.  That’s why yoga has practices:  to prepare you to dive deeper, stay longer, and ultimately to live from this level of your own beingness.

When you experience the fourth state while you are awake, you are living in a fluidity that pervades all of existence.  My Guru described it like water mixed with milk.  Just as the water mixed with the milk pervades it thoroughly, consciousness pervades all that exists.  When you know your own Self as consciousness, you see and experience it pervading all, becoming all, being all – inside and outside, all at the same time.

Then every moment of life is lived in the flow.  There’s no need to control, because life is always going the right way, whether your mind understands it or not.  Thus there’s never a need for you to object to how things are going.  Still you must participate in life.  You are alive, so you must participate.

How do you participate without trying to control?  You simply let go of your objections.  Whether you relax your body (a mini-Shavasana), or you use a few Ujjayi breaths, or you repeat mantra or say a prayer – accept that whatever is going on is reality.  Whatever is going on is going on.  Once you quit objecting, you see it more clearly and you can make better decisions about what to do.  You can even do whatever you do more effectively, and it works better.

It’s like when you make a wrong turn on a road trip.  After driving for some time, you realize you’re in the wrong place and going the wrong direction.  Complaining about it doesn’t get you to your destination.  First you stop.  Secondly you find out where you are.  Now you decide which route to take – to backtrack to where you should have turned, or to find a new route there.  Life is like this.

Life is like this because of the cause-and-effect nature of the universe.  The ancient texts describe that Shiva created the universe with certain built-in qualities and functions.  The parameters include gravity, light, love, the multiplicity of forms, the infinite hidden within each finite form, and cause-and-effect (called karma in Sanskrit), as well as others.

Whatever you do has an effect, whether it is an action, a word that you speak or even a thought.  Yes your thoughts have an effect, mainly on you.  Your thoughts, words and actions produce results, though not always immediately.  Every action you perform and every word  you say creates a result at some point, either now or in the future.  Every thought you think creates a result at some point, either now or in the future.   Another reason to cultivate a quiet mind!

Those boulders in your river, the ones that disturb the smooth flow of your life – you put them there.  They are your karma.  You cannot give credit for your karma to anyone else:  not your parents, not your boss, not society nor even your DNA.  Everything you have to face in life is the result of some prior action, word or thought, in this lifetime or even in previous lifetimes.  You have only yourself to thank.  So there’s no point in objecting.  Every rock in your river is a gift you gave yourself.

Go with the flow.  Lean back and soften into the moment.  Lean back in your own body and soften into your life.  Lean back behind your mind and find that deeper level of your own being, so you can see the flow pervading all that exists and recognize it for what it is – the Divine Reality, which is you.  Do more yoga.

Originally published May 2010

Go With the Flow

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

A yogini told me about her family vacation several years ago, a week-long river rafting trip.  Her father had worked for two years to get rare reservations for this special trip plus assembling all his children and grandchildren for a great adventure.  They had a great time, all the way through the last rapids of the trip, where the guides checked all the straps on everyone’s life jackets, and then told them they would be running the rapids without the raft.

Assuring them that it was safe, and that they had done this with hundreds of people, they gave the secret teaching that would make it work.  “As the water swirls you right into a big rock, just relax.  It will swirl you up and over the rock and you won’t get any scrapes or bruises.”  Our yogini repeated a mantra of her own devising through her whole ride, “Shavasana, Shavasana.”  She was the only one who emerged with no scrapes or bruises.  Laughing.  Victorious.  Ecstatic.

Go with the flow.  This means is that control is an illusion.  You are not in control, no matter how hard you try to be.  Life is actually not about control.  If it was, and if you really could control everything, you’d never laugh.  You’d never love.  You’d never be ecstatic.  You have to give into the flow in order to laugh and in order to love.  You have to flow with the river in order to experience the bliss.

Life is a lot like that river.  Some sections are smooth and idyllic, and others have big boulders and churning water.  While you’re not in control, you still must understand the cause-and-effect nature of the universe, just like the river guides who paddle in just the right places and who use their paddle to steer the boat in others.  That’s not control.  That’s intelligence.

You must learn to use your intelligence in a different way than you have been.  You have been using it to try to get what you want, or to impress others, or to learn more and more stuff that fills your head with more and more thoughts, which make you more and more unhappy.  Thoughts do make you unhappy.  Just watch your mind for a few minutes and you’ll realize it.  This is why yoga focuses on quieting your mind.  This is also why we love rivers, because watching one, or even rafting on one, has a wonderful effect on your mind.  Even thinking of a river has this effect – it calms and quiets your mind.  Technically, that’s called yoga:  the quieting of your mind.

If you thought river-thoughts all the time, your mind would be your friend.  Right now, it’s not so friendly.  It harasses you.  It cuts you down.  It drives you crazy.  It never gives you a moment of peace.  So you do yoga to quiet your mind.  The lessons you learn in your yoga class and personal practice apply to life so beautifully, as do the lessons you learn on the river.  Sometimes, like in this story, the lessons are the same:  go with the flow.

Originally published May 2010

Still Focusing on Pain?

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

I love to introduce new students to yoga by starting them with the Shavasana adjustments.  Once they lie down on their back, I make sure they have enough blankets under their knees and then I shift one shoulder blade on the floor underneath them.  After realigning that shoulder, I ask, “What is the difference?’  Most students report that the shoulder feels lower, flatter or more relaxed.  But quite a few report that their other shoulder is tighter.

Instead of reporting that the one I adjusted feels better, they focus on the discomfort in the other one.  If I now adjust the second one, then they report on a different pain in their body, and then another…  They don’t know how to actually feel GOOD.  When their first shoulder feels good, they quit looking at it, and they go looking for any spot of pain to focus on.

Your mind loves to do the mental equivalent of picking at scabs.  When you have a cut that is still healing, the scab forms and the healing is going on underneath.  It progresses so well that the edges of the scab become loose.  You know that you really should leave the scab alone and let the healing process continue underneath, but you pick at the edge.  When you pull on it, sometimes you pull it all the way off and the bleeding begins again.  You have reinjured yourself and the healing process will take longer this way.  Yet you do it with your body — and you do the equivalent process with your mind.

You have some say in where your mind goes.  Picking at the unhealed hurts is not a way of healing them.  Living in the constant memory of difficult things you experienced in the past is a way of perpetuating the pain or even reinjuring yourself.  Living in constant worry about the future is a way of creating pain from events that you may never have to live through.  It’s almost as though you have an addiction to pain.

There is another alternative. Instead of having to choose between feeling pain and feeling nothing, what if you could actually feel good?  It is simply a matter of choosing where to focus your attention.  With this new yogi, still lying in Shavasana with only one shoulder shifted into place while noticing the other (unadjusted) shoulder, I say, “OK — your other shoulder still hurts.  But, how does this one feel?  I moved it — does it feel any different?”

It can take two or three tries before she or he can actually describe the shoulder that was adjusted.  She/he stammers and searches for unfamiliar words – words that describe a sensation of feeling good.  It is an important moment, which is not just about the body.  This is an important learning — learning how to feel good.  Learning to look at what feels good, even if everything else isn’t perfect.

This is an important change in perspective, though it is not really yoga.  It is a good beginning because, in yoga, you have to learn to look at what feels good.  Yet this new ability is not for the purpose of feeling good.  It is so that you can retrain your mind.  It is not training your mind to deny the problems that need to be taken care of, but it is being able to choose your attitude while you are handling them.  When you can see the bright side, you can smile in the midst of the storm, and it is even good for your health!  If that were all that yoga offered, it would be a lot.  As your body is opening up, your attitude is lightening up.

Still, this is all preparatory training.  This training prepares you to use your mind in more powerful ways — to use your mind to look beyond your mind.  You learn how to use your mind to look at Consciousness-Within.  Once you begin this process, you become free from the old patterns and reactions.  You become free, progressively and powerfully free.  This is yoga’s promise.

Originally published December 2003

Krishna Avatar Part 5

by Nirooshitha Sethuram

Krishna was growing up fast in Gokul, his brother Balarama by his side.  They loved each other so much that one couldn’t live without the other.  Both of them were very mischievous.  Especially Krishna, whose many amazing exploits reminded Yashoda of the words of Garga Muni, who named Krishna, announcing that the Supreme Lord had appeared as this child…

It was another beautiful day, almost noon-time.  A woman was walking with a basket of fruit on her head, shouting “Fruits, fruits…”  She was poor and had only a few fruits to sell to keep her family fed.  Krishna heard her calling and ran out to the street to get some fruit.  He didn’t have any money.  Those fruits looked very yummy and Krishna wanted them badly.  He looked around and found a pile of grain.  As bartering was usual those days, picked up a handful of grain and ran to the fruit seller.  On the way to the seller, because of his tiny little hands, he lost half of the grain he had taken, leaving only a few grains in his hand.  He reached out and gave the woman the few grains he had in his hand.  Looking at the few grains, the woman smiled at Krishna, the grace-filled little boy.  She happily gave him the fruits he could hold.  Krishna jumped up in joy, took the fruits and ran back into the house to eat them.

Wondering how she was going to feed her family, she lifted the basket to go home, and was amazed to find the basket heavy with gemstones, including rubies, emeralds, diamonds instead of the grains, with gold ornaments and other precious metals.  She was unable to understand what happened but thanked God for them and went home glorifying the divine.  Krishna was watching through the window laughing at the amazement of the woman.

Though Gokul had been a peaceful place to live, all the recent demonic attacks had made it unsafe.  Nanda and the elders met to come up with a solution.  They decided to move to the nearby village Vrindavan, both for safety reasons and because it had lush grass for their cows, along with the nearby forest and of course the river Yamuna, as in Gokul.

Within a day, they packed up everything in their carts, gathered their cattle and started their trek to Vrindavan. On the way, the Gopiis started to sing about Krishna; it was a delight to all the travellers. When they arrived, the Govardhana hills, the rich green pastureland and the beautiful Yamuna river was in sight.  It seemed a great place to live and all were happy.

In the city, Kamsa still clung to his thought of eliminating his enemy, killing Krishna.  After the death of the demons he’d sent, Putana and Trinavarta, he knew his enemy was no ordinary being.  He understood that he needed a far more powerful demon than the ones he sent earlier.  He was very anxious because he didn’t know where Devaki’s eighth son was.  He sent his spies all around, thus finding out the whole village of Gokul had moved to Vrindavan.  This made him very suspicious.  Some time later his suspicion was confirmed to be true:  a spy confirmed that Krishna was in Vrindavan.  Happy now, Kamsa could target Vrindavan in order to kill Krishna.  He called upon a ferocious demon called Vatsasura (the calf demon), ordering him to go to Vrindavan and kill Krishna.

Krishna, Balarama and their friends were big enough to take the calves out for grazing daily.  One day, while they were attending to the calves, Vatsasura took on the form of a calf, mingling with the other calves in order to get near Krishna and do the job he was sent for.  As soon as Vatsasura entered the herd, Krishna noticed him and gestured to Balarama, who is always ready to confront danger.  While Vatsasura was trying to hide and blend in, Balarama went right in front of him, to distract him.  Krishna snuck behind the demon and caught hold of the calf’s hind legs.  Lifting the demon high above his head, he whipped it round and round and threw him toward a huge tree.  Hitting the tree hard, the calf fell to the ground.  Vatsasura returned to his demon form, lying dead on the ground.

The residents of Vrindavan heard about Krishna’s valor, which increased their love and devotion towards him more than before.  They begin to believe their Guru Gargacharya’s predictions about Little Krishna, that he is no ordinary child, that he is a Divine Incarnation.

This was another failure for Kamsa.  He was troubled and worried, thinking he needed a stronger demon.  He remembered Bakasura (the crane demon), a much stronger demon and Putana’s brother.  Kamsa told Bakasura that he had found his sister’s killer, Krishna, who was living in Vrindavan.  Kamsa promised Bakasura a handsome reward for killing Krishna.  As soon as Bakasura heard the name of his sister’s killer, he was enraged.  He accepted Kamsa’s request and took off without wasting any time.

Krishna, Balarama and their friends as usual took the calves to the pastures early in the morning, then to the Yamuna River for water.  When they were resting, they saw a shadow of a crane over the river and pasture.  The bird looked like a mountain with its beak stretching several yards in front of it.  Krishna knew it was Bakasura who had taken the form of a crane.

Krishna walked towards the crane while the others held back.  Acting quickly, as soon as Krishna was close, Bakasura snatched him up with his long beak and swallowed him, thinking he had successfully killed Krishna.  Seeing this, all the kids froze in fear except for Balarama, who obviously knew what Krishna was up to.

While in the crane’s long throat, Krishna glowed with radiance, producing a lot of heat.  Unbearable heat!  The crane spat out Krishna in a hurry as its thin throat was being burnt.  Krishna jumped to the ground.  Bakasura attacked him with his beak again.  Krishna grabbed hold of the beak and tore it apart, killing Bakasura.  Another demon killed.

The younger brother of Putana and Bakasura learned that Krishna killed his siblings.  Aghasura (the serpent demon) felt so much vengeance that he decided to wipe out the whole of Vrindavan.  He disguised himself as a giant serpent, waiting for the children with his mouth open.  He resembled a mountain cave, his lower lip resting on the ground, with his upper lip touching the clouds like a mountain peak and his tongue resembling a path through the mountain cave.

Krishna and his companions were coming along in groups, playing and dancing while herding the calves.  The first two or three groups entered what they thought was a mountain cave, impressed with the smooth road, which was actually the serpent’s tongue.  They fell unconscious due to the venomous fumes inside the snake’s mouth.

Aghasura kept still as his goal was to kill all of them, especially Krishna, so that their parents would also will die in grief.  Thus, the whole of Vrindavan would be destroyed.  Krishna recognized the demon immediately when he saw it.  He had to devise a plan to kill the serpent without hurting his friends and the calves already in its stomach.

Krishna walked into the mouth of the huge serpent. Aghasura was very happy that Krishna had fallen into his trap.  In the serpent’s throat, Krishna started growing larger and larger, blocking its airway.  This made the serpent unable to gasp any air, so it died.  Krishna opened the snake’s mouth and brought all the boys and calves out.  He brought them back to consciousness by his divine powers.

Aghasura attained moksha by the grace of Krishna.  The Devas and all the celestial began celebrating this divine union. The celebration and news of Krishna’s glory reached Satyaloka, the residence of Lord Brahma.

After slaying Aghasura, the boys were having lunch, joking and laughing.  But when they finished eating, they noticed something strange.  Oh no!  All the calves were missing…  where did they go?  Did they wonder around and lose their way?  Krishna wanted all of them to stay calm and to stay in one place, so he went to look for the calves.  Searching everywhere in the forest, he couldn’t find any trace of them.  Wondering what had happened, he returned to the spot where his friends were waiting for him to tell them the sad news.  But all of his friends were now gone.

Through his divine powers, Krishna saw what was going on.  Lord Brahma had a little doubt in Krishna, as to whether he was really Lord Vishnu, especially since Krishna was acting just like a little boy, playing with other kids, even being a usual teenager with some might and powers.  So, Lord Brahma was testing him.  Lord Brahma had put the calves and the kids into a deep sleep and hid them in a cave.  Krishna smiled to himself, planning an answer for Lord Brahma.

The all-pervading Krishna manifested as each and every one of his missing friends and the missing calves, exactly how they were.  He returned to the village as usual with all his friends in the evening.  The mothers of the Gopalas and the calves welcomed them like never before, pouring their love out to them as they never had before. They didn’t know that this was because they had the opportunity and the highest blessings of being the parents of Lord himself.

After some time, Lord Brahma came to see what Krishna was doing without his friends.  To Lord Brahma’s astonishment, Vrindavan was as it had been before he’d hidden the kids.  In disbelief, he went back to the cave where the kids were hidden, thinking maybe Krishna had found them, but Lord Brahma found them still sound asleep.  He went back and forth between the cave and Vrindavan a couple of times to make sure.

When Krishna saw this, he turned himself along with all his friends and the calves in Vrindavan into Lord Vishnu’s form, only for Lord Brahma’s eyes.  Seeing Krishna’s true form and understanding his mistake, Lord Brahma rushed down to offer his respect to Krishna and brought all the kids and the calves back to Vrindavan.  Everything was back to what it was earlier.

Now Krishna, Balarama and the other friends were older, so they started to take the calves and the cows further into the pasture.  One day, going farther along one of the pathways, they came to a beautiful forest, where they could smell the fragrance of the fruits and flowers.  They had been warned to stay away from this forest of palm trees called Taalavana, due to Dhenukasura (the donkey demon).

Dhenukasura was surrounded by other small demons, also taking the form of donkeys, not letting anyone into that forest so that nothing was taken from there.  The kids were enthusiastic to go in and get some of the never before eaten fruits.  Krishna hinted to Balarama to go in and do the needful.  Balarama went into the forest, followed by Krishna and their other friends.

Balarama shook the trees with his mighty strength, making the ripe fruits fall to the ground.  Jubilantly picking and tasting the fruits, the kids completely forgot about the demons who were taking their afternoon nap.  All the noise from Balarama’s shaking of the trees woke Dhenukasura.  Angry that someone had entered his forest and awakened him from his nap, Dhenukasura appeared in front of Balarama and started kicking his chest with his hind legs, sounding like an earthquake.

At first Balarama was patient, though it was not his usual nature.  But then he got very angry and took hold of Dhenukasura’s hind legs, wheeled the donkey around and tossed it up into the treetop.  The demon came crashing down, landing dead on the forest floor.  The wheeling and the tossing made the forest look as though a tornado had hit the area.

The fight between Balarama and Dhenukasura woke all the other demons.  Wanting to avenge Dhenukasura’s death, they charged at Balarama.  Skillfully, both Balarama and Krishna killed all the demons by doing the same thing Balarama had done to Dhenukasura.  From the monkeys to the birds, all the creatures of the area were so happy to be able to come to the forest to enjoy the fruits for the first time.

More to come…