Monthly Archives: January 2020

The Heart of Seva

By Swami Sahajananda

Seva (selfless service) is doing your work, and everything else, as an act of worship.  Without expecting results, you make this offering to God and/or Guru.  You see and honor the Divine in each person whatever the task may be.  Swami Muktananda said that no work can be an obstacle on the spiritual path. He promised that anyone worshipping God while fulfilling his or her vocation is fulfilling the purpose of their birth.  It’s a beautiful practice, no matter what you do in the world, dedicating it to God makes it a spiritual pursuit.

Last month, I was immersed in the seva of supporting many people in our India Retreat.  This experience gave me a richer understanding of this deeply powerful practice.  All our retreatants lovingly attended to their various sevas. Throughout, they were present and grounded in their assigned tasks.  To a sevite who cleared and cleaned the tent 3 or 4 times daily, I expressed my appreciation for her attentiveness and positive attitude.  I marveled that she stacked up the very heavy blankets each time.  Without hesitation she said, “It’s my seva!”  That said it all.

Also many people served and supported me while I was in India. I became aware of feeling their actions emanating from their heart.  Each action was a dedication to God.  The power of their attitude of service amazed me.  I felt they saw each person they were serving as God. God was serving God —never a sigh of exhaustion, exasperation or complaint. Always, a friendly smile readily emanated from their heart through their eyes.  Yes, many receive pay for their work; still, I experienced their service coming from their deeper essence.  A human heart-to-heart layer is always there.  Their gaze lingers eye to eye, with their hands in front of their heart, as they say, “Namaste.”

I can trace this feeling back to before my sannyas (swami) initiation.  Even before I considered becoming a swami, I decided to offer my teaching work as seva.  It felt right, even amidst some objections from my mind.  That decision shifted me.  It has changed how I live my life.  It has allowed me to attend to teaching in a whole new way.  My attitude now is that I am serving God.  I remind myself that the Divine is within each student whom I teach or talk with.  This knowing expands as I interact with them and see and feel the Divine within everyone.

Looking at life this way shifts everything.  Doing all for God, I am going to do the best I can.  For what else is there?  It’s not about competition or making more money.  It’s not about status or fame.  It’s about giving what I can from a place inside of me that is free of the constrictions that make me small.  I serve from my heart, which is my Self.  Seva thus opens the contracted space my mind has created, dissolving the walls and divisions.  When relating to the people in my life this way, my being expands.  I am just serving God.

To serve God from my own Divine Essence frees me from the tethers of my mind. There are so many ways to experience and offer seva.  In giving of herself or himself, free from expectations, the sevite receives so much.  The gift of offering seva is that is takes you into the essence of your own being, your own Self.

Plunging Into the Depths

By Swami Shrutananda Saraswati

The first time I went snorkeling in the ocean was in a shallow cove.  The water was a little murky.  Yet I was amazed by what was under the surface: giant kelp, seals, bat rays, orange fish, crabs, etc.  I had the real experience of what I had only heard of or seen in pictures or on TV.  It was 3-D and vibrant.  There was a whole new world to explore under the surface of the ocean.

Of course, I wanted to experience more of what I found beneath the ocean’s surface.  Because I did not learn how to scuba dive, I went to deeper, clearer waters like the Red Sea and the Great Barrier Reef.  I had even more extraordinary experiences of this magical world of coral reefs, sea turtles, parrot fish, sea horses, etc.

Through yoga, I found an even more phenomenal world to explore — inside.  The ancient sage Shankaracharya described this:

The true nature of your own Self is extremely subtle. It cannot be perceived by the mind, due to the density of which the mind is made. It is known in your inner state of absorption, which is attained by plunging inside. Plunge deep within your own being to know your own Self as Consciousness-Itself. Allow yourself to know and to be that which you already are. — Vivekachudamani [rendered by Swami Nirmalananda]

Like the surface of the ocean, your body and your mind are only superficial levels of your own being. There is so much more to explore under the surface, deeper within. According to yoga’s sages, there are 36 dimensions to be experienced within.

These deep inner experiences are easily accessible in Svaroopa® yoga classes as well as in your home practice and especially in Svaroopa® Vidya meditation.  This is the specialty of the Svaroopa® Sciences. By plunging deep within, having the inner experience of the profound reality within.  You know that which you already are, your own Self as Consciousness-Itself.

Your body is a physical reality.  Your mind is a non-physical reality, like electricity, gravity, love, happiness.  You can’t give me a scoop of gravity.  You can’t give me a scoop of love.  Even though the mind is non-physical, it has a density to it.  You know this.  People sometimes say, “I have brain fog,” or “I am feeling dense.”  Some days your mind is more dense than other days. Yet even on your best day, your mind has a density to it.

Your mind and your body are the most contracted levels of your being.  So what ability does the mind have to perceive these subtler realities?  One scientist provided a very yogic answer to this question:

Our brains aren’t trained to see anything other than our world, and it will likely take something from another dimension to make us understand. – science.howstuffworks.com

Yoga’s sages agree that “our brains don’t understand how to look for anything more,” saying that this means you have to go beyond your mind.  They discovered all 36 dimensions by diving deep into meditation, exploring the inner realms of their own being.  All of yoga’s practices purposefully take you beyond your mind, so you experience the multidimensionality of the universe, which is here in your own human body.  This is why it is so valuable to do poses and yoga breathing: to begin with your body and to go deeper, so you get to know who lives in it.

This is how a yogi lives in the world: from the inner experience of multidimensionality of your own being, the depths of your own being.  By living in the knowing experience of your own multidimensionality, you bring your human capacity to its fullest blossoming in this lifetime.  This is the power of the Svaroopa® practices.  Do more Svaroopa® yoga.

Krishna Avatar – Part 7

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Balarama and Krishna had become teenagers.  While Krishna was the savior of Vrindavan, he was also the naughty prankster of Vrindavan.  His naughty work, called the “Leelas” were a nuisance for the young Gopiis (maidens), so hard to take, yet they enjoyed them very much.

Krishna hid near the Yamuna River where the young Gopiis went daily for their bath.  He stole all their clothes, leaving them stuck in the water for hours.  He would bring mouthwatering fruit to the girls.  When they started enjoying it, he will pluck it from their hands.  Then, as they pleaded for the fruit to be returned, he will bite into it and give it back.

If the Gopiis braided their hair beautifully, Krishna would sneak behind them and pull it so hard such that their hair comes out; it is painful too.  He would bring lovely flowers and make the girl cry for them.  Then he will ask her to close her eyes so he could place the flowers in her hair, then while she was blind, he gave it to her friend!  Any Gopii wearing a nice new dress would be sure to get mud on it that day.

Were these really pranks or did they have some inner meaning hidden in them?  You have to decode these pranks, discarding the face value, going deeper to understand the ultimate meaning — letting go of ego, possessiveness, greed and external beauty; building up kindness, inner beauty and a feeling of oneness.

The Gopiis loved and adored Krishna so much.  They presumed Krishna as their ultimate supreme love.  Oh, and his flute, it totally intoxicated them.  His flute music was so mesmerizing, all the Gopiis just lost themselves in the melody.  They enjoyed Krishna’s flute very much and devoted their life to being with him all the time, as much as they can.  The days that they could not see him became the dark days of their lives.  They lived for Krishna, only for Krishna.

It was the same for the cows and the calves too.  The cows would get distracted from feeding their calves, the minute they heard Krishna’s flute.  They would abandon their calves and go searching for Krishna.  The calves too would forget about everything and go in search of Krishna.

There was one special Gopii named Radha.  The attraction was mutual between Krishna and Radha.  She was Krishna’s favorite Gopii, his first love.  As a matter of fact, Krishna mostly played the flute for Radha.  The drama of love between Krishna and Radha was so beautiful that Krishna was most of the time called “Radhe Krishna,” rather than just Krishna.

Krishna’s relationship with the Gopiis, Radha in particular, constitutes the private life of Krishna.  In this relationship, love reigns supreme.  Krishna bows to Radha.  The supreme object of devotion worships the highest devotion.  The peak of Radha and Krishna’s love affair was the Rasa Leela, the circular dance of love.  This dance, Rasa Leela, points to the highest potential of the Self.  Here, the highest love conquers the selfishness.

The young Gopiis came to Krishna in the middle of the night.  His flute was the invitation for that wonderful experience of transcendent love.  Willing to leave all else behind, they never hesitated for a moment to think about the consequences of meeting with a young boy in the forest at night.  Of course, thousands of reasons would have filled their minds as to why they should not go.  Leaving their families, while not worrying about the cultural and religious barriers, the Gopiis proved their true devotion in meeting with Krishna in the dark hours of the night.

After Gopiis stole away from their families, Radha would steal Krishna away from the other Gopiis.  Krishna, who steals away others hearts would have his own heart stolen by Radha.

One particular night while Krishna was playing his flute, enchanted by the melody, Gopiis started dancing around him in the moonlight.  After some time, Krishna noticed that the Gopiis had become proud of their good fortune of being with him.  To teach them a lesson, he disappeared.  As soon as he disappeared, the Gopiis hearts were filled with longing.  In great despair, they went searching for Krishna in every corner of the forest, acting like they had lost their minds.  Once they realized their mistake, he suddenly reappeared.

In this way, Krishna gave them the teaching about selfless love, then started to dance to reward them for their pure love and devotion.  With only one Krishna and way too many Gopiis, Krishna had to multiply himself to dance with each one of them — to their great delight.  They danced all through the night, the divine dance of bliss, in a big circle until sunrise.

One afternoon while they were grazing, the cowherds (Gopalas) got really hungry.  They asked Krishna and Balarama to find them something to eat.  Krishna told them about some brahmins doing a special yaj~na (Vedic fire ceremony) in a nearby village, prompting them to go there and ask for cooked food.  He said to ask in his name and in the name of Balarama.

Following instructions, the Gopalas found the priests chanting mantras and making offerings to the fire.  The Gopalas asked for food, reminding the brahmins about the principles of charity.  They also mentioned that any food that they would get was to be shared with Krishna and Balarama.  The Brahmins ignored the boys, too busy concentrating on finishing the yaj~na, anticipating the benefits coming from it.  The Gopalas went back empty-handed and described what happened with a huge disappointment.  Krishna sent them back to the village, not to the priests but to their wives.

The minute that the Gopalas mentioned Krishna was sending them, asking for food, the wives were thrilled that Krishna was somewhere in their neighborhood.  They prepared a big platter of food, enough for a feast.  They were all ready to go with Gopalas to see Krishna.  As they were about to leave their homes, their rest of their family showed up and wouldn’t let them go to see Krishna.  But the women simply ignored them, leaving with the Gopalas to see their dear Krishna.  When they saw Krishna their hearts melted with delight.

Krishna was pleased with how their devotion and dedication had overcome all obstacles, so they could come to see him and serve him selflessly.  Yet Krishna sent them back to their families, advising them to help complete the yaj~na successfully.  As the ladies were hesitant to leave, wanting to serve Krishna and fearing that their families wouldn’t accept them since they left against their wishes, Krishna promised them that their families will welcome them.  He explained that they can have him in their mind while they do their household duties.  He said, in this way they can attain him.

Receiving this blessing, the women returned back to their homes.  To their surprise the whole family was pleased to have them back.  The brahmins realized how they had been so caught up in the rituals that they forgot what was most important by ignoring Krishna’s request.  The brahmins regretted that they missed the golden opportunity to see and serve Krishna.  Their life changed forever from that instance of realization.

An annual tradition in Vrindavan was to make offerings to Indra, the lord of the heavens, so that he blesses them with enough rain for the year.  Indra had gotten used to this and started to expect it from the earthlings.  Without doing his duty of providing for their needs, he was filled with arrogance, expecting his annual offerings.  Krishna was aware of this and told the Vrindavan citizens that Indra’s duty was to give everyone the rain; thus they should make their offerings to Govardhana Hill, nearby Vrindavan.  He explained that Vrindavan flourished because of its location at the base of Govardhana Hill, so that Govardhana Hill provides all the essentials they needed.  Having hearing this, the people felt that Krishna was correct and decided to make the offerings to Govardhana Hill that year.

All the preparations were completed and they started the offerings to Govardhana Hill.  Indra realized he was not getting the Vrindavan offerings and got angry.  He ordered his servants to show his power by starting a huge storm, complete with thunder and lightning.  The people were terrified, saying Indra was taking revenge on them.  They started questioning their decision to change the offerings.

Krishna calmed them, assuring that Govardhana Hill would protect them.  He uprooted Govardhana Hill and held it aloft, as a huge umbrella above his head, using only his pinky finger.  Indra’s servants continued the violent weather for six days, but nothing affected the Vrindavan residents, as Krishna and the Govardhana Hill were protecting them.

Indra’s servants went back and reported their failure to Indra.  Not believing his own servants, Indra himself went to Vrindavan, planning to extend the storm and prove his might.  He increases the intensity of the storm, not knowing the true planner behind the uprising.  Yet he was unable to do any harm to Govardhana Hill and the people it was protecting.

Realizing it was Lord Vishnu in the form of Krishna behind all the drama, Indra understood his mistake and calmed the storm.  As the storm subsided, all of Vrindavan was happy and completed their offering to Govardhana Hill, thanking Krishna for showing them the correct path and safeguarding them.

After everyone left, Krishna laid the hill back in its place and came out to find Indra waiting to beg for forgiveness from him.  As gracious as always, Krishna forgave Indra but warned him not to repeat the mistake.

More Alive

by Gurudevi Nirmalananda  & Swami Shrutananda (the yogi formerly known as Vidyadevi)

When you feel more joyous, you feel more alive.  You already experience this sometimes, but look a little more closely at the feeling of being more alive compared to less alive.  Most people are looking for life’s events to make them feel more alive.

Some people push the limit in order to get that feeling of aliveness; if you are hanging onto the side of a cliff with your fingers and toes you have to be 120% there!  While adrenaline is involved, there is another quality as well.  On the edge, for many people, provides a quality of hyper-aliveness.  Adrenaline junkies do things like jumping out of airplanes (skydiving), ski avalanches, bungee jumping, etc.

People also do things to feel less alive, to numb themselves out, because their life is too painful.  People take alcohol and drugs, sleep a lot, withdraw from others and avoid participating in life, etc. They do things to make themselves feel less alive.

What if they could give you a psychological self-assessment test for “more alive”?  You already know that yoga makes your body more flexible, makes your digestion work better, makes your breath move more fully and makes your heart pump more efficiently (and therefore more easily). Your stress chemicals are down and your endorphins are up, your muscles are working efficiently and you feel your body in a whole new way.  Your body is more alive! You are more alive!  You are more present in it!

How does yoga do this?  With a fast-paced yoga practice, you might think it’s like exercise.  With Svaroopa® yoga, you might think it’s because you are in a quiet room with spiritual music and stacks of plaid blankets.  But when you think this way, your mind has again gone looking for the environment to make you joyous and alive. This is not what makes yoga work.

It’s easy to see with Svaroopa® yoga.  It makes you both more joyous and more alive because it gives you the inner experience of your own Self, svaroopa.  When you experience your own Self as Consciousness-Itself, you draw from the deepest dimension of your own being, which automatically makes you be more present, more alive, more joyous – more you!  Shankaracharya wrote about this over 1,300 years ago,

“That Supreme Reality, which has become everything that exists, has become you, and is manifesting as you, through your body…”[1]

Since your yoga makes you both more joyous and more alive, now you don’t have to look for other people to give you a fix. You no longer step into the world feeling needy and dependent, waiting for something to make you feel better.  Yoga makes you feel better before you step out, so you go into the world carrying that sense of inner fullness with you.  You have something to share.

Vidyadevi describes, “A few years ago I had a yoga therapy client who always came in for an Embodyment® yoga therapy session before her in-laws came over for dinner.  This event was not a joyous occasion for her.  She planned the therapy session, not for her body, but to change her inner state.  From that deeper state she was able to allow the evening to play out, yet be fully joyous, fully alive and fully present.”

This all happens because of what the sage Shankaracharya describes,

“There is a self-existent Reality that is the foundation of your own inner sense of self. This self-existent Reality is your very Self.”  — Vivekachudamani

This is the way a yogi lives in the world.  What a way to live!

Do more yoga.

 

Originally published November 2014