Author Archives: Swami Nirmalananda

Krishna Avatar — Part 8

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Kamsa relentlessly worked on sending more demons to kill Krishna.  He sent Arishtasura the bull demon, Kesii the horse demon and Vyomasura the demon who took the form of a mountain.  They ended up with the same fate as the other demons, all of them killed by Krishna.  Seeing that all the demons were dead, even the very powerful and cunning ones, Kamsa panicked.  Kamsa was desperately trying to think of who to send next.

On the other hand, Sage Narada was impatient, wanting things to move faster so to have Kamsa’s tyranny come to an end.  Sage Narada approached Kamsa, seemingly in a helpful manner, praising Kamsa’s strength and power.  But Sage Narada injected more fear into Kamsa, warning not to let Krishna grow and get more powerful.  He reminded Kamsa who Krishna and Balarama really are.

Even more agitated by Sage Narada’s advice, Kamsa prepared to kill Vasudeva and Devaki.  Sage Narada advised against Kamsa’s decision. Kamsa listened to Sage Narada, then deciding to imprison Vasudeva and Devaki again.  Sage Narada loved Kamsa’s decision, as it would motivate Krishna even more, to get his birth parents released.  Then, Sage Narada also adviced Kamsa that he should directly confront Krishna sooner rather than later, and disprove the prophecy.

After a long discussion, Sage Narada proposed an idea to Kamsa.  He asked Kamsa to hold a wrestling tournament, inviting all the best wrestlers and demons to participate.  He suggested inviting Balarama and Krishna to the tournament.  Sage Narada also praised Kamsa’s abilities, telling him that he could easily kill Krishna in a wrestling match, should Krishna escape all the other wrestlers and demons taking part in the tournament.  Liking the idea, and not knowing Sage Narada’s ulterior motive, Kamsa called for a wrestling tournament.

Kamsa summoned Akrura, a friend of his from the Yadava Kula, commanding him to extend the tournament invitation to Balarama and Krishna.   Devastated by the news, believing that this was a trap to kill Krishna, Akrura had to obey. Yet he was also happy that his longing to see Krishna and Balarama was becoming a reality.

Sage Narada’s aim of hastening the meeting of Krishna and Kamsa was accomplished.  The Sage left Mathura saying his usual words praising Lord Vishnu, “Narayana, Narayana,” knowing that the meeting will be Kamsa’s end.

Kamsa sent his best chariot to Akrura for fetching Balarama and Krishna.  Akrura traveled to Vrindavan with Kamsa’s invitation.  Being such an admirer of Krishna, when Akrura reached Vrindavan, he warned them about what he believed Kamsa was planning.  Krishna and Balarama looked at each other and smiled, as they accepted the invitation, even though everyone in Vrindavan was against it.

Knowing this will be his last day in Vrindavan, Krishna played his flute and danced, eating whatever anyone offered him.  There was heartache; as a human, Krishna knew this was the last day he would see Radha, his lifelong love.  Yet Radha, the other Gopiis and all the others in Vrindavan were singing and dancing, not knowing that it was their last day with Krishna.  At the end of the day, after dinner, he gave his flute to Radha as a token of love, asking her to keep it until they meet again, though he knew it was never going to happen.  That was the last day he played his flute until the end of his lifetime.  He knew that the playful mischief part of his life was over.

The next day, Krishna and Balarama got ready for their trip to Mathura, amid strong opposition from their parents and all of Vrindavan.  Yashoda was so worried that she didn’t know what she was doing, pacing up and down in the garden with no way to stop her son from going to Mathura.  Krishna calmed Yashoda, telling her it was the duty of a man to accept any challenge he received, and to face it with valor and dignity.  Balarama and Krishna mounted the chariot to leave for Mathura but getting out of Vrindavan took until noon, making it through the crowds to the outskirts of the village.

On their way, they stopped at the bank of River Yamuna.  At this stop, Akrura saw who Balarama and Krishna really were.  He saw the vision of Lord Vishnu on Adhishesha in place of Krishna and Balarama at the riverbank.  Akrura was in bliss and cherished that moment for the rest of his life.

Akrura got them close to Mathura, wanting them to stay one night at his own home, on the outskirts of the city.  Krishna said he would definitely come and stay, but only after he ended the cruelty happening to his clan by Kamsa’s hands. Though Akrura was not happy, he accepted Krishna’s decision and dropped the brothers at the entrance of the city, then taking the chariot to Kamsa to inform him of their arrival.  Krishna and Balarama were delighted to see that Nanda and his clan from Vrindavan had arrived before them, having taken a shortcut.

Mathura was a very beautiful city with impressive gates including entrance pillars made out of marble.  The brothers walked around looking at the marvels of the city, clean broad roads, mansions, gardens, ponds and fountains.  While they were walking around, the news of their arrival spread like wildfire.  People gathered in huge numbers to see them.  Krishna performed a number of miracles while roaming in Mathura.  All the resulting pandemonium disturbed Kamsa.  He already knew that Krishna and Balarama had arrived, so he knew what the pandemonium on the roads was all about.  Kamsa felt he was on the brink of going mad; he knew no rest or peace that night.

The brothers rested in a camp outside the wrestling tournament arena that night.   They woke from their sound sleep, had their baths and prepared themselves to go to the wrestling arena.  Hurrying along, they wanted to be there for the first event of the day.  They could hear the drums and the trumpets in the arena.  However, when they reached the gate to the arena, a huge elephant was blocking it.

Kamsa had planned that the huge elephant, Kuvalayapida, would kill Krishna.  The caretaker of the elephant did something to it, making it angry, so it went on an outraged attack.  Trumpeting loudly, Kuvalayapida charged towards Krishna and Balarama.  It tried to catch Krishna with its tusk.  Krishna ducked and went behind the elephant, catching its small tail.  He lifted the elephant and spun it round and round until the elephant was very dizzy, then he smashed the elephant on the ground.  Kuvalayapida fell with a thud and died.  Krishna and Balarama pulled out one tusk each, hanging it on their back shoulders.

They entered the tournament arena.  The arena was lavishly decorated with flags, flowers and garlands.  There were special stands, platforms and seats built for the kings, ministers, priests and other important people, including the wrestlers of Mathura.  The best wrestlers from the surrounding area entered the arena, ready for the challenge.

Kamsa entered the arena with his ministers and guards and sat in the special area arranged for him.  The drums were rolling and the music was playing.  According to Kamsa’s prior orders, Mathura’s chief wrestler, Canura, challenged Krishna for a match while the assistant chief wrestler, Mustik, challenged Balarama for a match.  They set the condition that the matches end only with death, thinking it was  going to be easy to finish off the cowherd boys.  Krishna and Balarama accepted the condition.

There was a lot of audience commotion in reaction to the conditions.  The audience thought the combatants were not equally matched, and some left the arena thinking it was unfair.  Others stayed to encourage the brothers, while those on Kamsa’s side wanted the match to take place.  There was support for both sides.

The two wrestling matches started, the mighty Canura and Mustik locked in with Krishna and Balarama respectively.  Though Canura and Mustik were hitting Krishna and Balarama hard, the brothers stood there as though raindrops were falling on a mountain.  After a number of strikes from the mighty Canura and Mustik, the crowd went silent, seeing the might of the boys.  Kamsa was frowning in fear.

Krishna and Balarama danced around Canura and Mustik, then with one blow each, brought them down.  The brothers picked up their challengers, whirled them around and slammed them to the ground.  Both Canura and Mustik lay dead in the dust.  One by one, other great wrestlers from all places followed Canura and Mustik into the wrestling ring.  They endured the same fate in the hands of Krishna and Balarama.  The bodies of Kamsa’s wrestlers were piling up by the side of the ring, while Krishna and Balarama danced in the middle of the ring.

Filled with anger and fear, Kamsa jumped out of his chair.  He commanded his royal guards to drive the boys out of Mathura, to put Nanda in chains and to kill Vasudeva, Devaki and his own father Ugrasena, who were in the dungeon.  Before Kamsa could finish his command, Krishna jumped on to Kamsa’s royal platform.  Catching Kamsa him by his hair at the nape of his neck, Krushna pushed Kamsa down to the wrestling floor.  Kamsa’s crown and Kamsa tumbled down the stairs to the platform, falling on to the wresting ring.

Krishna leapt from the platform down to the wrestling ring and straddled Kamsa’s belly.  Terrified, his past actions flashing before him, knowing the prophecy was coming true, Kamsa couldn’t say a word.  Krishna’s bare handed blows killed him.  A great roar and cheer went up from the crowd.   All the people who had earlier left the arena returned, surprised on hearing the news.  Kamsa’s eight brothers sought revenge for their brother’s death, ending up with the same fate.

Though Kamsa had been thinking negatively of Krishna, he was thinking of Krishna twenty-four hours of the day, three-hundred-sixty-five days of the past many years, since the day Krishna was born.  Due to this, Kamsa was cleansed of all his karma and became one with Krishna at his death.

After Kamsa’s death, Krishna and Balarama rushed to the dungeon and freed Vasudeva and Devaki from their chains.  They fell at their feet and bowed with utmost respect and received their blessings. Vasudeva and Devaki’s happiness at seeing their sons after all these years is beyond the power of any words to describe.

The boys then released Ugrasena, the rightful king, who had been in prison all these years.  They crowned him as the king again.  All the people of Mathura were in joy as their benevolent king was reinstated in full power once again.

Living Life in Your Fullness

By Swami Prajñananda

I took a bite of a crisp, juicy, red apple.  An apple had never tasted so sweet, so satisfying.  I wondered how this apple could taste so different, like I had never truly tasted one before.  The answer was, I had it after my yoga practice.  The apple wasn’t different. I was.

Have you noticed this?  Food tastes different after you take a yoga class or do your own home practice.  If you haven’t, you can do a little experiment: cut an apple in half, or any food for that matter.  Eat half before your yoga and then have the other half after.  Then see, is there a difference?

There will be!  Yoga makes everything better.  It isn’t just food that improves when you do your yoga.  Everything in your life improves.  You know this by the difference in your first Shavasana compared to the Shavasana at the end of your yoga class.  In only an hour and a half, you are changed.  Your body feels better, your mind is quieter, inner joy is welling up inside.  And the change in you doesn’t end when you leave your blankets.  This inner shift stays with you.

All of yoga’s practices are for the purpose of giving you the “More” inside.  It may be a softening or a settling, a feeling of peace, even feeling you are more comfortable in your own skin.  When this inner shift happens, you experience life in a whole new way.

It’s like the Wizard of Oz.  Until she went to Oz, Dorothy’s life was black and white.  Once she arrived in Oz, everything was in technicolor.  You are like Dorothy, except you don’t need to go anywhere to live life in technicolor.  In fact, what you really need is to be more here, to be more present.  When you inhabit your body and look inside to experience the deeper dimension of your being, life is fuller and more satisfying.  A sutra explains this principle:

J~naanam annam. — Shiva Sutras 2.9

Pure knowledge is the only real nourishment,

that which gives full satisfaction.

(translated by Gurudevi Nirmalananda)

There is a difference between knowledge and pure knowledge.  Knowledge can be anything you know.  It can be your knowledge in camping, university, cooking and the list goes on.  There are so many forms of knowledge!  But when it comes to pure knowledge, there is only one type: the knowing of your own Divine Essence.  This knowing is a deep knowing.  While other forms of knowledge are useful and important, pure knowledge nourishes you in a way that no other type of knowledge can touch.

We human beings are constantly looking for that satisfaction.  Yet we look for it on the outside.  Our culture, steeped in consumerism, feeds on the idea that you can buy happiness.  I like the example of Cheetos.  They are so addictive, because they were engineered to be that way.  The way it works is that Cheetos melt in your mouth.  Called “vanishing caloric density,”[1] this tricks your brain into thinking you are not consuming anything.  So you can eat and eat and eat and eat, and you will not feel full.

There is nothing nourishing, nothing fulfilling when you eat them yet you keep eating.  Why?  Yes, they are tasty, but it is more than that.  There is a motivation to keep consuming.  Because you are not yet satisfied, you keep eating them.  You do not feel full.  No matter how many you eat, however, it won’t touch that emptiness you are trying to fill.

Yoga says you are not empty inside; far from it.  Even more than food, the knowledge of who you are fills you.  It fulfills your craving for that “something more.”  Technically, the knowledge isn’t what fills you; it is your own Self that fills you.  Whether you know it or not, your Self is always present.  You were and are always full.  Without the knowing, however, you feel lost, alone and empty.

The purpose of all yoga’s practices is to cultivate your ability to know.  Once you know your own Divine Essence, you can never go back to not knowing.  You may forget from time to time.  That is why you have your yoga, to get you back to your inner knowing.  This inner knowing is the only real nourishment.

The next time you feel that inner craving for something more, pause.  Notice that you are not feeling satisfied.  Instead of heading to your usual “go to” — whether that be chips, TV, Internet surfing, etc. — pick one of yoga’s tools.  For a few minutes you can repeat mantra or meditate.  You can do some Ujjayi breaths or a pose or two.  Or choose another yoga tool that works for you.

After those few minutes, check in with yourself.  Do you feel more satisfied?  More nourished from the inside?  Every time you take a dip in the pure knowledge of your own inner fullness, you experience the nourishment and satisfaction that only your Self can provide.  And, yes, you can still have chips.  But can you be based in your Self while you have them?  Ultimately, the purpose of your yoga is to live your life, to be in the world, and at the same time to be sourced from your inner Source.  This is yoga’s promise.  As Gurudevi says, “Do more yoga.”

[1] Moss, Michael. “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Feb. 2013.

 

Know Thy Self

By Swami Samvidaananda

From my airplane window, I watched the brilliant orange sun setting over a cloud bank.  Luminous rays transformed the clouds into a glowing field of orange, then red, then pink and gold.  I was transfixed.  I was flooded with joy.  I felt a peaceful, soaring freedom.

Everyone has these euphoric moments, though what triggers them will be unique to each.  For you, perhaps it’s a snowstorm, a song, or the vista from a mountain peak.  For a moment, time stops.  You are propelled into an ecstatic, elevated state.  Whatever the external trigger, your euphoria is happening inside.

Where did the joy I was experiencing come from?  While the rays of the sun were beautiful, they weren’t bathing me with joy-rays.  The joy, peace and freedom flashed up from within.  This inner arising is your own “capital-s Self.”  Your own Self is the One Reality that is being everything that exists, including the sun, the snow, the song, and you.  You are that One Divine Reality, Consciousness-itself, that yogis call by the holy name, “Shiva.”

The rest of the time, you simply don’t know that that’s who you really are.  You experience yourself as small, separate and alone.  You are bound by not-knowing.  Yet the system is rigged so that you can know.  My teacher, Gurudevi Nirmalananda, says:

“The arising of transcendental consciousness from within shatters your unknowingness and sets you free.  This is the specialty of this tradition.”

With each arising flash of your own Self, you discover that you are more than you thought you were.  Once you experience being awash with the nectar of your inner Divinity, you can’t completely not-know ever again.  Your unknowingness is shattered.  You are free of your limitations and fears… for a moment.  Or an hour.  Or until the sun sets, the snow melts, the song ends, or you come down off the mountain.  And then you want to go back there.  But “there” is “here,” within you.

It’s wonderful that outer things can trigger an experience of your Self, but they are not always reliable.  The sun isn’t shining every day; the weather doesn’t cooperate.  So, what if you could trigger it for yourself?  You can.  once you’ve received Shaktipat initiation, meditation makes it easily accessible, anytime, anywhere.

This tradition’s specialty is initiation that flashes your Self to arise within you, so you can know your Self.  This inner awakening means you can bring your Self up within again, at any time, through meditation.  So you meditate again and again, until the day that you live as that illumination all the time, outside and inside.  To “know thyself,” as Socrates said, is the ultimate goal of the human being — to know your own Self, to be the beingness that you already are, no matter where you go, no matter what you do, no matter who you are with.  That’s Gurudevi’s promise.

You want to know your own Self.  You have been searching.  You are ready to know, because you are reading a blog about yoga’s mysticism.  That decision came from an impulse arising from your innermost depths.  That impulse is the uplifting energy of your own Self, arising within you, striving to set you free.  To know your own Self, you must meditate.

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