Author Archives: Swami Nirmalananda

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

More Joyous

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

It’s the season of joy!  Our year-end holidays, with the decorations, music, gifts, special foods, family and friends, makes this a joyous time for so many people.  Yet for others this is a time of stress, anxiety or unhappiness, and the knowing that their expectations or hopes of joy can’t be fulfilled.

The problem is that the percentage of your life during which you experience joy is too low.  Even when you feel such joy, it is too short because the situation you depend on for your joy doesn’t last.   You invest so much time and energy trying to create certain circumstances, ones that will make you more joyous.  But it doesn’t last because you’re looking for the joy to come from outside.

The yogic sage Shankaracharya said, in his text titled Vivekachudamani,

“…your own innermost Self [is] the ceaseless joy within you.”

This means you have the capacity to experience “ceaseless joy” within.  Instead, you settle for only periodic joy.  Life really is about joy.  Being more joyous is THE measure for quality of life.  The problem is that you’re dependent on unpredictable externals to trigger joy for you.  You’re not getting it from your “innermost Self.”  But you can.

You can go a yoga class when you are not feeling joyous at all and you’ll feel different at the end. If a researcher gave you a psychology self-assessment test before class, you might be at 40% or 62%; the test at the end would show you higher, maybe 78% or even 90%.  If you have been looking for yoga to make you more joyous, this is a sign of your intelligence.

Shankaracharya warns,

“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

You already have these deep inner experiences in Svaroopa® yoga classes, in your own home practice and especially in Svaroopa® Vidya meditation. By plunging deep within, having the inner experience of the extremely subtle reality within, you know that which you already are, your own Self as Consciousness-Itself.

You already rely on yoga to make you more joyous.  Svaroopa® yoga reliably gives you your own Self.  When you lose your Self, simply do more yoga and meditation.  If it worked before, it will work again.  It will give you what Shankaracharya promises,

“At this innermost level, you never cease to experience infinite joy.”

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

Do more yoga.

 

Originally published November 2014

Use Everything as a Reminder

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

I found myself singing along with the music as I stood in line at Starbucks, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la, La la, la la.”  I love the decorated shop windows and the little huts going up in the shopping malls — “Santa Claus is coming to town…”  This is a joyous season, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.  At the same time, this is the most stressful time of the year, and a time when more people commit suicide than any other.

Two people can walk down the same sidewalk, passing by the lights and decorations on every side, and have two different experiences.  This is because it doesn’t matter what you are looking at on the outside — it is what you are looking at on the inside that matters.  The lights, decorations and music are all reminders, but what they remind you of is different for every person.

One person is reminded of all the people she still has to buy gifts for, and how limited her budget is.

Another is reminded of the upcoming visit to his extended family, and is looking forward to the reunion with great joy.  Yet another dreads the family scene/  These two people can even belong to the same family!

Someone else is reminded of so many joy-filled Christmas mornings and is delighted to be creating the same for her own children or for a family whose name she got from a list at the local homeless shelter.

One person will look at all the happy shoppers and be reminded of all the poverty and injustice in the world.  She may donate her time or shopping money to an organization that is working in these worthwhile arenas, or she might just complain about life.

There are many people who see every decoration as a reminder of the Divine Birth they celebrate from 2,000 years ago.

Some are reminded that they don’t celebrate Christmas because their religion is different than mainstream America.  Some of these people like being different.  Others want mainstream America to approve of them.

Some people use the joyfulness of the season to remind themselves of all the reasons they are not joyful, whether it is the problems of their life right now or the history of their life so far.

Where your mind goes is personal to you, but it determines how your entire holiday season goes.  Your inner reality is so much stronger than the outer environment.  Yoga says, “Look deeper!  Look within and see that you are Divine Consciousness.”

A yogi uses every event as a reminder to look within.  Everything in the world is used as a reminder of consciousness.  Consciousness has become all that exists, and you can see this.  There is an inner dimension that far transcends the outer events.  Whatever you see, and whatever you do, say or think is an opportunity to recognize the divine within the mundane.  This includes the holiday decorations along with the traffic jams.  It includes the garbage that needs to be taken out, the ringing of the alarm clock, the errands to be run, and the smile of a child sitting in Santa’s lap, as well as the tears of another child who is afraid to sit up there.  This is true, not just for five or six weeks at the end of every year, but in every moment of every day, all year long — every year.

Along the way, you can use everything as a reminder to look at consciousness.  The One Divine Reality has become everything that exists, and you can see this (or remember this) in every moment.  You must learn to see it.  Without being able to see the divine in everything, you live like a thirsty man in a desert, looking everywhere for water and never finding it.  Instead, everything in life is a reminder of consciousness — just look again.  Look past your reactions and see the divine in everything.  Start with your Self.

Originally published December 2003

Beyond Instinct

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Animals are ruled by their instincts. As a human, your body has physical instincts as part of your basic equipment.  These instincts can lead you to eat too much, sleep too much, measure your worth by what you own, and seek love through sexuality.  This lifestyle will never be fulfilling because it is impossible to fulfill all of your instinctual cravings.  There’s a demon inside who always wants more.  You have to choose: are you going to experience and express your divine qualities or will your instincts lead the way?

While philosophers question what the human being is, yogis ask a different question: How do I become fully human?  The answer is that you must utilize the human specialty fully: cultivate your awareness.  As you explore your ability to be aware, you discover that awareness is more powerful than instinct.  It’s quite easy to do.  Here’s how: When instinct wants to take over, expand your awareness.  Instinct makes you Velcro your awareness to a single thing.  All you have to do is expand your awareness.

As an example, let’s consider a plate of cupcakes, the newest culinary trend.  When you focus on the specific cupcake you want, Velcro takes over your mind.  But if you expand your visual focus, like widening a camera lens, you see the whole plate.  Now you will want to offer your compliments to the baker.

Continue expanding your awareness.  Breathe and expand your gaze wider, and you will see the other people enjoying the yummies, Now your heart opens a little more, not only to the baker but to all those who are enjoying her wares.

Continue breathing and expand to see the room you are all in, with your host (yourself, a neighbor, the bakery or the yoga studio) giving generously of their facility and time.  You can keep expanding your awareness to include the city, state, region and whole country you are in.  You can include all the family members of the people present, and the generations that preceded and will follow them.

Now your instincts no longer pull you to the cupcake.  You may still choose to take one, if you like.  Yet your experience is now completely different because you are more aware.  The cupcake will even taste better, but that is not the point.

As you become more aware, you become more fully human.  As you become more fully human, you become more fully divine.  Your own divine essence shines through you because it is you.  While the divine is present in everything that exists, the human being has the capacity to experience it most fully.  You are the human who can experience and express the divine fully.  That’s what this human life is for.

Here are some of your divine qualities from Krishna’s list in the Bhagavadgita.  There are probably no surprises here.  You like yourself better when you live this way.

steadfastness

vigor, fortitude

generous nature

straightforward, speaking only truth

absence of anger, hatred and pride

freedom from need, greed and fear

peacefulness, gentleness, compassion

You must intentionally cultivate your divine qualities.  Instincts are seductive, but the light of your divinity is even more powerful, if you choose to follow it.  The key is choice.  In every moment, you have the ability to choose what kind of human you are being.

Originally published July 2010

What is Unique to the Human Being?

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Echoing through the ages, the question continues to arise:  what is a human being?  Considered by the ancient Greeks and by many philosophers and priests since, the question is now being explored in modern media through comparison with vampires, werewolves and zombies.  While movies and TV shows are pursuing a lucrative theme, they are also offering a modern-day version of Krishna’s discourse in Chapter 16 of the Bhagavadgita, which is subtitled “The Divine and Demoniacal.”  Krishna expounds on your innate divinity and how to fulfill the purpose of your life for 15  chapters, and then clarifies that the human being is a mix of divine and demoniacal qualities.  You have to decide which qualities you will express in your life.

Yoga’s sages described that every species has a unique quality.  They said that the bee has the most sophisticated sense of smell, with modern-day scientists now agreeing.  The sages described the deer as specializing in sound and being very responsive to music, but scientists haven’t investigated this yet.  The elephant has the most sensitive sense of touch, which is why they throw dirt on their backs as a sunscreen.  If you have seen a baby elephant being massaged and cradled by its mothers and aunts, you understand how powerful their sense of touch is.  In my early years of study with my Guru, Vijayananda, the Ashram elephant, visited the courtyard every day.  Baba fed him chapattis (wheat tortillas), sugar cane and chocolates, ending the visit with an oil massage.  One of the attendants would lean a ladder against his side, climb up and spread essential oils all over his back, taking the time to rub the oils in.  It was amazing to watch Vijayananda’s eyes; clearly he was in bliss.

What is the unique characteristic of the human being?  As a human being, you have an innate capacity to be aware, a capacity shared by no other creature.  You are not merely aware, you are aware that you are aware.  You know that you know; you see that you see; you think that you think.  While your mind is very powerful, you are more than your mind — and you know it.  You are awareness itself; your own Self is Consciousness-Itself.

Yet you have an ability to lose it.  You can lose track of this great capacity in the blink of an eye.  You get lost in things, in events, in situations and in other people.  When you get lost in anything, it is your Self that you are losing.  As a human, you have both divine and demoniacal qualities, so you must choose what you are doing with them.

To understand the choices before you, you must first understand what the divine and the demoniacal are.  Yoga’s cosmology describes multiple planes of existence, including the three worlds:  this physical realm, the celestial sphere and the nether world.  The celestial realm abounds with devas and devis (divine beings, male and female), plus apsaras, gandharvas, angels, cherubim, seraphim and more.  Their bodies are made of light and they sip amrit, the nectar of immortality.

The nether realm is populated with demons — but they are not evil beings.  They are beautiful beings, with powerful bodies and huge sensual appetites.  They base their life and being on their instinctual drives.  Their primary motivations are power and pleasure, and anything that helps them satisfy these impulses is pursued with a single-minded focus, regardless of how it affects others.  Demons are selfish, self-centered, and unrestrained in their appetites, but they are not evil.  This is an important distinction.

Yoga’s cosmology says that evil does not exist.  There is no devil; there is no evil force tempting you; you have no evil hidden within you.  Instead, this is a cause-and-effect universe.  You choose to shine with the light of your own divinity, or you hide it with the shadows you create in your mind.  You must choose where to live — in the light or the shadows.  The most powerful tool you have is your power of choice.

Many of yoga’s practices address this predicament directly.  For example, when you choose to practice ahimsa, non-harming, you choose to resist the inner impulse to cause pain to others.   The impulse arises in every human; it is one of the demoniacal qualities that Krishna warns about.  To understand it more clearly, don’t call it “demoniacal,” but label it with a simpler name — “instinctual.”  Your instincts tell you to lash out, to get back, or to get even or to get ahead.  You must not follow your instincts.

Instead, look to a higher quality that is already there within you, a divine quality.  Find the empathy, love or compassion that makes you able to give another person some breathing space.  Or you can look for an intelligent way to handle yourself in a difficult situation.  Most importantly, you can find a way to remain peaceful inside, which makes you able to make better choices and follow through on them.

You must intentionally cultivate your divine qualities.  Yoga gives you the ability to make an intelligent choice, an inspired choice.  In every moment, you have the ability to choose what kind of human you are being.

 

Originally published July 2010

Krishna Avatar – Part 6

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Krishna and Balarama were growing up.  Krishna was so good a flutist, everyone was mesmerized by the music and sat listening to it for hours and hours.  Not only the people of Vrindavan, but also the birds and animals went through the same experience.  Both his father and mother, King Nanda and Yashoda, were so proud of their son, not really knowing who Krishna was.  Of course, if he had a flute in his hands, who would not experience a blissful state?

One day, taking the calves out for grazing, Krishna and the gopalas went along the Yamuna River to where a multi-hooded black serpent, Kaliya, lived with his family.  Kaliya previously lived near the banks of Ramanaka Dvipa, but had been chased away by Garuda, the king of the eagles, because Kaliya had been polluting the waters with its venom.

Now Kaliya was poisoning the Yamuna waters, knowing that Garuda wouldn’t come there due to a curse by Saubhari Muni.  Kaliya’s poison contaminated not only the waters, but also spread miles around, even polluting the air such that flying birds would fall unconscious or dead to the ground.  No one from Vrindavan went to the vicinity of Yamuna where Kaliya lived.

Reaching there, the boys were very tired and desperately thirsty.  They drank the poisoned water from Yamuna and fell unconscious on the riverbank.  Seeing this, Krishna immediately revived them with his divine powers and decided that Kaliya must be stopped.

Krishna climbed one of the largest trees on Yamuna’s bank and jumped into the middle of the poisoned body of water. His huge splash woke Kaliya, who started searching for the intruder.  Finding Krishna, Kaliya slithered near, furious that Krishna had entered its territory and disturbed its rest.  Not knowing who Krishna was nor his intentions, Kaliya ferociously attacked Krishna.

Krishna’s friends on the shore, except for Balarama, were terrified.  Some of them ran back to Vrindavan for help. The ones who ran back informed King Nanda and Yashoda about what was happening at the riverbank.  The whole of Vrindavan quickly followed King Nanda and Yashoda to gather where Krishna and Kaliya were fighting.

When they arrived, Kaliya had grabbed Krishna in his mighty coils and was squeezing him hard.  While Krishna was calmly watching what was happening from within the coils, the villagers were trying to figure out a plan to help Krishna.  On seeing this, as usual, Yashoda fainted, screaming her son’s name, ”Krishna!  Krishna!  Krishna!“

Balarama was enjoying the show, laughing inside because knew exactly what was going to happen.  When King Nanda was preparing to jump into the river, Balarama calmly restrained him and others from going in.  Then he attended to Mother Yashoda.

Krishna had been in Kaliya’s grip for a long time, though Kaliya was not able to crush Krishna.  Yet the villagers were in distress.  Deciding to relieve them from the distress, with one push Krishna came out of Kaliya’s grip.  This enraged Kaliya, as no one had ever escaped his coils, so he tried to sink his fangs into Krishna.

Kaliya spat poison all over Krishna, who was evading all the snake’s attacks.  The battle went on for a long time, above and under water.  While Krishna was having fun, the villagers were highly tense, but Balarama was enjoying the show.

After a while, Krishna jumped on top of one of Kaliya’s hoods and started dancing, embossing his feet on the snake’s hood.  Krishna moved from one hood to another, making Kaliya spit out all the venom and some blood too.  Krishna made sure that Kaliya didn’t have any venom left to harm anyone.  While on the snake’s hood, Krishna started to dance and play his flute with a blissful melodious sound.  Everyone could see this dance from the river bank, all puzzled about how this was possible.

The serpent got weaker and weaker, losing all his venom and energy.  He was at the verge of losing his life, so all of Kaliya’s wives prayed to Krishna to let their husband live.  They bowed to Krishna.  Krishna stopped his dance, with Kaliya barely conscious.  He ordered Kaliya and his family to leave Vrindavan, never to return to the vicinity.  He also commanded them to return to Ramanaka Dvipa, promising that Garuda will not hurt Kaliya due to Krishna’s footprints embossed on Kaliya’s head.

After gaining full consciousness, Kaliya complied with Krishna’s command, promising never to attack anyone, and returning to Ramanaka Dvipa with his family.  No one knew of the conversations between Krishna, Kaliya and his family, but everyone was relieved that Krishna was safe and Kaliya was gone.  Yashoda was the happiest!  Balarama was the only one smiling and calm through what was going on.  Since that day, that portion of the Yamuna was back to its original beauty and resourceful state.

It was already night.  The villagers of Vrindavan were all very tired from witnessing the long fight between Krishna and Kaliya as well as Krishna’s divine dance.  Their day had been filled with intense emotion and they had little energy to walk back to their village. The cows were hungry and tired too.  So, they decided to spend the night on the Yamuna riverbank.  King Nanda was worried about Krishna, thinking he may have been poisoned by Kaliya, so he wanted to keep an eye on him.

While they were sleeping, a great forest fire broke out.  It spread quickly due to strong winds. When the villagers felt the heat of the fire, they woke up and cried out for help. Hearing their cries, Krishna immediately opened his mouth very wide.  With one gulp, he swallowed the whole forest fire, saving all the villagers and their cows once again, as always the Lord protects his true devotees. Krishna was taken in grand procession back to Vrindavan by his friends, parents and villagers singing and rejoicing his victory and safe return.

King Kamsa was very tired of losing all his demons to Krishna.  He called the strongest demon he knew, Pralambasura, ordering him to kill Krishna.  They devised a plan to separate Krishna and Balarama, as it would be easier to kill them one by one.  Pralambasura waited for Krishna and the children in the area for few days.

One evening, Krishna, Balarama and their friends were playing in the meadow while the cows and calves were grazing.  Soft breezes carried the fragrance of the flowers over the meadow, through the forest and into the whole area of Vrindavan. The boys played different games each day, like hide and seek, tag, swinging under the trees, wrestling, and sometimes they would innovate new games as well.  They would dance while Krishna played the flute, or they admired Krishna’s dancing while they sang and clapped.

That particular day was hot and sunny, so they went deep into the shade of the forest, staying cool under the trees.  Pralambasura disguised himself as a boy and went toward the children.  He hid behind the trees. waiting for a good opportunity. Krishna saw him, a boy hiding behind a tree, and realized it was a demon in disguise.  Of course, Lord Krishna knows all things, including past, present and future, so he recognized the boy as Pralambasura.

Krishna invited the disguised Pralambasura to play with him and the gopalas.  He proposed they play tug-of-war, dividing them into two teams.  The losers were supposed to carry the winners back to the village when it was time to return.  Everyone liked the idea of a joy ride, hoping their team gets to win.  With Balarama on one side and Krishna on the other, Pralambasura joined Krishna’s team.   Pralambasura, as the boy, thought that his plan was working, that Krishna was so stupid as to invite him to play with him.

The tug-of-war ended with Balarama’s team winning.  Pralambasura devised the brilliant idea to carry Balarama away, he can deal with him first. He offered to carry Balarama back to the village while the other losing team members carried the winners.  As they started running, Pralambasura lagged and strayed, taking Balarama deeper into the forest, going in a different direction than the village.  Slowly Pralambasura shed the boy’s body, taking on his real form, hurrying to take Balarama away in order to kill him.

When Balarama identified that he was riding on a demon, he shouted, “I am being carried by a demon in the opposite direction of where my friends are headed.”  Krishna heard him and understood that Balarama wanted Krishna to stay with their friends and take care of them.  Their friends were worried that a demon had taken Balarama.  Krishna told them that he was worried too, but not about Balarama.  Krishna was worried about the fate of the demon.

Krishna was right; Balarama fearlessly began to strike Pralambasura. First Balarama tightened his legs around the demon’s neck, strangling him.  Then Balarama used his mighty fist to land a single blow on the demon’s head. The demon let out a fierce roar and fell to the ground, dead.

The loud sound was heard miles away. Balarama came dancing towards his friends. The gopalas embraced Balarama with great affection and began to praise him.  With his divine smile, Krishna stood looking at his beloved brother.  Pretty soon, all of Vrindavan resounded with the tale of Balarama’s strength.  His foster father, Nanda, remembered why he was named “Bala” Rama and Garga Muni predicting his extraordinary strength and valor at the naming ceremony   Kamsa had failed again.

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