“You matter.” “Don’t give up.” “You are not alone.” These signs touched me deeply when I saw them around our neighborhood. I looked them up online and found that they are called “signs of hope.” They all started with a mom in Oregon. She started these “signs of hope” after a string of suicides in her hometown. They made a difference. Starting with only 20 signs, now her signs and tokens number over one million. They are located in more than 28 countries and all 50 states. I was not the only one touched by these signs. What is it about them?
For one, they are beautiful expressions of affirmation. Yet, what really touched me about them is what was left unsaid. They are a response to the pain and despair that leads someone to take their own life. They are signs of hope when you feel like you don’t matter. They lift you up when you are ready to give up and feel completely and utterly alone.
This angst and despair is called the human condition. You feel that you are small and unworthy. It is the “human” condition because everyone feels this way. You may not notice it all the time. Most people do a very good job of distracting themselves. Yet, instead of merely distracting yourself, what if you could discover the more that you are?
In our yoga retreat center, a dorm room sign says, “You are more than you think you are.” And it’s true. You are more than your mind could ever imagine. Our Master Teacher, Gurudevi Nirmalananda, describes it this way:
“Infinite Reality is taking on all the forms in the universe in order to experience being the forms. Shiva is being you in order to experience being you. You are the One, the divine, scintillating light of consciousness, in individualized form.”
You are so much more than you think you are. You are the Divine Reality that has always existed, exists now and will always exist. You are Shiva — Infinite Reality. Shiva is being this entire universe: from the atoms to the planets, the trees, animals and very personally you. You see it in the phrase “You matter.” You are made of matter, made of energy. But what is the source of that energy? Shiva. You are not only made of Shiva, but Shiva is being you.
This can seem quite abstract, and yet it is actually extremely personal. I really understood this when I experienced it after taking vows as a yoga monk. There was both a deepening that happened and a crystallization of my individuality. The deepening was an inner opening and settling into my own essence — Shiva. And at the same time, there was this blissful tangible embodiment of my body and mind. It’s like I finally accepted that this body and mind are Shiva. And they are the equipment Shiva needs to shine into the world. From then on, I have loved myself more than I ever had or could before.
This is what happens, and more, when you discover who you truly are. To discover your own essence, you must go deeper than your body and mind. While they are made of Shiva, they will never give you the knowing that you are Shiva. For that, you must meditate. Meditation is your pathway inward. It gives you the tangible experience of cosmic Shiva while in your own individual form. When you open your eyes, you are sitting deeper within yourself. As you continue to meditate, you will fully embody your own body and mind. You will shine into the world. You can enjoy your life knowing that you are the One experiencing your life. For you are Shiva being you for the pure delight of being you.
When I was a teenager, I felt my face and body did not measure up. The “look” promoted in all the movies and magazines seemed completely unattainable. Especially I disliked my nose. I remember telling a friend that I thought she had a perfect nose. I wished mine was like hers. Surprised, she shared that she thought my nose was perfect and she wished hers was like mine. I was shocked! We were both wishing for what the other had. Worse, we were in pain about it. Any time you see differences, you will be in pain.
Just as noses come in all sizes and shapes, so do trees. Recently I walked through the woods on a sun-dappled afternoon. I sat and watched the light flickering through the leaves of a stand of trees. The trees featured many shapes and sizes, all of them so beautiful. It’s easy to see beauty in the differences when you look at trees, but not when you look at people. Why?
It’s because you don’t feel threatened by a tree. But with every person, you wonder if they are friend or foe. Your mind harbors a background anxiety that undermines your ability to be welcoming and friendly. Worse, you compare yourself with everyone you see. It’s painful, whether you come out on top or they do.
There’s another way to live. You can see the differences, yet love and appreciate them all. My children taught me this – all so different, yet all so loveable. I have the same experience with meditation students. They bring their mind and body, which have been through life experiences as well as prior studies and trainings. Each of them that asks a question gives me a gift, an insight into their starting point and an opportunity to help them with their upliftment. It’s so beautiful to see their uniqueness, yet with the Divine shining through.
It’s like a building with stained glass windows. The light shining through is the one light, yet each window colors that light in its own unique way. But a visitor will walk down the row and say, “I like this one and don’t like that one.” What if you looked at the light that’s shining through? Every window is a marvel, a work of art that can move you, if you let it.
In the same way, this entire world is a glorious creation, with one light shining through all beings. People, like trees, are all worthy of being treasured and cared for. Regardless of the shape of their nose or color of their hair or skin, they shine. There is one light shining through all eyes, regardless of their color or shape. Look at the light! See it in all its glorious forms.
This is easy to do when you have found it in yourself. This is your starting point. Once you find the light of your own Divine Essence, you see it in all. The differences remain, yet they don’t matter. This is mysticism. This is yoga.
The Pandavas along with their mother Kunti hiked across several hurdles, at last reaching the thick of the forest. Kunti was feeling heavily tired so Bhima ended up carrying her on his shoulders along with the young Nakula and Sahadeva on his hips. Holding Yudhishthira and Arjuna by his hands, Bhima cleared the way like an elephant and marched onward.
As Kunti couldn’t travel any further due to hunger and thirst, they decided to rest under a banyan tree that stood close by. They sat together under the thick shade of the tree, exhausted after the long journey. From stories they had heard, they knew they had entered the magical forest, Maya Vana. Legend said that anyone who entered this forest never returned.
All of them laid down and fast fell asleep except for Bhima. Bhima watched over them while they slept. Aware that his brothers and mother were hungry and thirsty, he went in search of a waterfront. After covering a short distance, he heard the twitter of birds. Going that direction, he soon found himself at a waterfront. Bhima quenched his thirst. Then he made a big pitcher out of leaves, filled it with water and returned to the banyan tree where his family members were lost in deep sleep. Bhima did not want to disturb them. He stood aside keeping watch over them.
This demonized magical forest where the Pandavas were sleeping was the hunting preserve of a fearful demon name Hidimba. He lived there along with his sister Hidimbi and their clan of demons. While roaming around, in search of a victim, Hidimba sensed the presence of human beings nearby. He asked his sister to go find them and bring them to their settlement so he could kill them for dinner.
Following the human smell, Hidimbi reached the banyan tree and saw the sleeping Pandavas with Bhima on guard. As soon as she saw handsome Bhima and his muscular body, she was attracted to him. She immediately fell in love with him. An ardent desire to be with Bhima overwhelmed her and she decided not to go back to her brother. She thought the only way she could even have a chance to attract Bhima’s attention would be to transform herself into a human form. She indeed transformed herself into a maiden of incomparable charm, and adorned her body with valuable jewelry.
Hidimbi walked up to Bhima gracefully. Complimenting Bhima’s muscular body and handsome looks first, she asked who he was, and who were all those people sleeping at his watch. She then confessed her desire, wanting to marry him and be his wife. She warned him, “This forest is a hunting preserve of my brother Hidimba. If he comes here, all of you will be his meal, as he is a cannibal. It would be wise to wake all of them and leave this place right away.”
With a smile, Bhima replied, “Don’t worry. I shall deal with your brother if he happens to come here. I am not willing to disturb the sleep of my brothers and my revered mother in fear of your brother. We’ll just see how powerful he is.”
As Hidimbi was taking so long, Hidimba arrived right at that moment with his clan. He saw that Hidimbi had transformed herself into a beautiful maiden to indulge in romantic conversation with Bhima. Hidimba erupted with anger and thundered, “Hidimbi, you are a disgrace to our clan. You bring shame to our entire race. You have stooped so low as to enjoy being with a mere human being. Can’t you find a demon to satisfy your lust? I shall kill you right now, along with your human lover.”
Saying this, Hidimba advanced. Clenching his fists and grinding his teeth, he grabbed for his sister. In rage, when he was about to lay hands on Hidimbi, Bhima intervened, holding him by the wrist. Bhima shouted, “Oh, you can’t lay hands on a woman in my presence. Come on, face me if you dare. Don’t you know only cowards choose to attack women. Get away from her or I shall knock you down so strongly that you may never rise again.”
Hidimba couldn’t bear such insulting words coming from a mere human. He leapt at Bhima and gave a staggering blow on the back of his neck. Bhima was not frightened at all. A fearsome duel followed. Seeing this, even the animals of the forest ran. Hidimbi hid behind a rock nearby, unable to bear the fact that her brother and the one she had fallen in love with were fighting.
The commotion caused Bhima’s mother Kunti and four brothers to wake. Seeing Bhima challenged in a fight with a dreadful demon, his brothers rushed to help him. To their surprise, he had already overcome the demon and raised him well above his head. Bhima tossed him down to the ground violently. Hidimba fell with a heavy thud and died. The rest of them stood by silently, including Hidimbi in hiding.
Kunti, Yudhishthira and the brothers were delighted to see Hidimba was dead. But Arjuna warned Bhima that they need to leave the place as the news about Hidimba’s death might reach the Kauravas and give them away. The rest of them supported the suggestion so they decided to leave right away.
They tried to move on quickly, but the custom of the demon clan was that whoever killed their leader became the new leader. Therefore, the clan stopped them, wanting Bhima to become their leader. They begged Bhima, worried that there will be internal problems with choosing any other of the clan as a leader. Even after a lot of pleading by the clan, Bhima and his family didn’t accept their plea. With a lot of regret, they started to move on, to get out of the Maya Vana.
They weren’t aware of Hidimbi following them at their heels. After travelling quite a distance, Kunti turned around and saw this beautiful young lady following them. She stopped immediately, asked Hidimbi who she was and why she was following them. She demanded that Hidimbi say something about herself and her purpose in following them.
First touching Kunti’s feet, Hidimbi stated, “I’m Hidimbi, the sister of Hidimba, the demon whom your valiant son has put to death. I assisted my brother in all his endeavors, until I saw your son, with whom I have fallen in love.” By saying this, Hidimbi disclosed everything, admitting that she was in love with Bhima and wanted to be his wife. She was seeking the approval of Kunti to allow her carry out her desire. Kunti explained that a marriage between a human and demon was never heard of and that her son must get back to his duties.
Hidimbi was relentless. She wouldn’t accept Kunti’s answer. Kunti said that the Pandavas living with the demons forever was not going to be possible, and that they had a lot of other things they need to attend to. Hidimbi replied, “On the day I have a child with Bhima, an heir to lead the clan, I will let you go your way.” Kunti was so charmed by Hidimbi’s obedience and well-mannered behavior, she could not refuse her request for the company of Bhima.
Kunti went up to Hidimbi and showered blessings on her. Then Kunti turned to Bhima and asked him if he was ready to marry to Hidimbi. She was so delighted to see Bhima falling for Hidimbi too. She wanted the best for them. But she requested that Hidimbi leave Bhima free at nightfall so that he could come to protect them, especially at night.
Hidimbi wanted everyone to stay in the clan’s grounds. Kunti agreed and the wedding was done in a very fancy way according to the clan’s customs. The couple requested blessings from Kunti and Yudhishthira. Kunti and Yudhishthira blessed them both, saying Hidimbi is the first daughter to come into their family. Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva congratulated their brother and Hidimbi. Bhima enjoyed the company of Hidimbi and all of them got used to living with the demon clan. Days passed, followed by weeks, while things went on quite smoothly for them.
After some time, Hidimbi gave birth to a male child who was a true copy of his father Bhima. He was named Ghatotkacha. Being a child of a demon, he grew up to be a young man in a few days. He was a mighty warrior, just like his father, gifted with immense physical strength. He also inherited his mother’s magical powers. All the Pandavas were very happy to see him doing wonderful things.
After the birth of Ghatotkacha, Kunti and the Pandavas decided to take leave of the clan as they had to move on. Hidimbi remembered her word and let them go with a very heavy heart. Ghatotkacha was named the leader of the clan. When they were leaving the forest, Kunti called Ghatotkacha, telling him that even though he was Bhima’s son, he would always be regarded as the eldest son of the Pandavas. Ghatotkacha promised to come to their aid whenever they needed him. He asked his father merely to think of him when needing his assistance, and he would be there without any delay. Bhima embraced both Hidimbi and Ghatotkacha, before accompanying his mother and his brothers out of the Maya Vana.
I ate a cannoli the other day. It was delicious. We went to our local Italian bakery and sat inside for a pastry and espresso. It felt like a major outing, especially with the year we’ve had. It was fun, and satisfying, and fueled me until dinner. Food is important. Your body does its best when you feed it delicious, nutritious food. And, of course, the occasional cannoli (or treat of your choice). Every body is different, but you know when you feel well-fed.
What do you feed your mind? An ancient yoga text says:
J~naanam annam. — Shiva Sutra 2.9
Knowledge is food.
J~naanam means knowledge; anna means food. Knowledge feeds you. It’s built into our language: you can say you savored a book. Just like a good meal, you can devour it. You can polish it off. There’s a satisfaction and pleasure in knowing things. As a little kid I was eager for summer to end. I couldn’t wait to go back to school and learn new things. My younger brother knows every detail of every episode of “The Brady Bunch.” It’s knowledge he will gladly share with you. Thanks to the internet, you can instantly know about practically anything. Just like Jefferson Airplane’s song “White Rabbit” says, you can “feed your head.”
While entertaining, this kind of knowledge is not what the sutra points to. There’s a deeper knowledge that feeds you in an entirely different way. It’s the knowing of the hidden dimension of your being, called your Self. Your Self is your innermost Divine Essence. You are made of God and so is everyone and everything else.
There’s only One Ever-Existent Essence of Beingness. That One Beingness is being everything that exists. And that Beingness is your Self. Your Self is the source of your peace, your creativity and joy. Your capacity for generosity, happiness and love arises from the radiant depths of your Self.
You discover your Self when you dive beneath your ever-fluctuating thoughts. How do you dive within? By meditating. Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation specializes in revealing the deeper dimensions of your Self to you — so you know who you are. This is the knowledge that feeds you. When you know your Self, you truly feel nourished. There’s a blissful fullness and satisfaction to knowing your Self. You are nurtured and sustained from within.
That doesn’t mean you miss out on cannolis. Or that you’ll no longer delight in reading a book. Whatever you choose, you’ll enjoy, appreciate and participate in it more than ever before. That’s because you’ll bring your blissful Divinity to everything you do. It’s the best way to live!
Whenever a task absorbs your full attention, extraneous thoughts are quieted. You naturally experience this effect of one-pointed focus in many areas of life. Through these mundane activities, you can experience wonderful glimpses of Self, your Divine Essence.
You may have found it in practicing a musical instrument, cooking a new recipe, trying out any new skill or reading an engrossing book. I apply one-pointed focus in weeding the gardens of the Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram where I live. Lush, green and fragrant, the gardens are planted with native species. To cultivate an optimal environment for these intentional plants, I remove the unintentional plants (weeds). Identifying what stays and what goes is a practice in awareness.
This focus requires diligence, discernment and patience. At the same time, such attention to weeding also uproots thoughts from my mind. A clear, vast, space beyond my mind opens, just like a newly weeded area. My mind feels lighter, clearer and more expansive. Quieting my mind allows for that which is beyond my mind — my Self — to shine through.
The other day, my mind quieted when I was weeding — at first. The Ashram grounds reflected the abundance of summertime in Southeastern Pennsylvania. This profusion of plants and trees enveloped my senses. But then I became aware of arising thoughts and being irritated by the weeds. Why are you here? Maybe you are not a weed? Who am I to judge? How can you grow so fast? You are so hard to uproot! And on and on.
Fortunately, I was able to catch my thoughts before they totally took over. By Grace, I remembered Gurudevi Nirmalananda’s teaching on focus:
“You can harness this capacity of your mind to a different purpose, focusing inward for the exploration of your own spiritual essence.”
I started repeating the mantra given to me by Gurudevi. The mantra refreshed my focus and then turned it around, taking me deeper within. As I opened inward, I offered my seva of weeding to Gurudevi. Offering this seva to the Guru in care of her home, I was filled with joy. Weeding became a Grace-filled practice. Full of gratitude, I was doing the seva with dedication and intention. I became aware that I am Divine. I felt my being enveloped with the Grace of the knowing of the Self.
While yoga offers many pathways to access the Self, the most direct is mantra repetition. This powerful technique brings you quickly and reliably to the Self again and again. This experience doesn’t have to happen with eyes closed in a quiet room. Through the practice of mantra repetition (japa), this experience can happen anywhere.
Applying your mind to mantra, you get more than a glimpse of the effulgence of Self. The scope of the mantra’s power is astonishing. Mantra is the living force of God. Repeating mantra, you offer your mind sacred words. Repeating mantra silently inside, you use your mind intentionally to open the way to your Own Self. Your mind engages in an activity that brings you to spiritual upliftment.
Passed down from Guru to Guru, through century upon century, this mantra is infused with their Grace. The blessings of each sage in this lineage empower the mantra. Each time you repeat it, you bring yourself closer to knowing your own Divinity. You don’t have to stop your worldly activities to engage in mantra repetition. You can add it to whatever you are doing. You can even add it to whatever you are thinking. In minutes, you will find that your mind has shifted and quieted. Thoughts dissipate as you repeat the mantra alongside them.
Our Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation mantra names your own Self. Recognize the power of your mind and choose to focus your thoughts on your own Divine Essence. Repeat mantra whenever you remember. The more you do, the easier it will be to remember to do it. Fill your mind with the mantra’s Divine words to find your Own Self as Consciousness Its-Self.
The Pandavas had proved their excellence and superiority to the Kauravas once again by fulfilling Guru Drona’s wish. The display of various martial skills and their distinctive noble qualities gained wide popularity, not only with the elders of the family but among the people of Hastinapura as well.
The good citizens of Hastinapura wanted Pandu’s eldest son Yudhishthira to be declared as Crown Prince. His fine qualities of patience, benevolence, honesty and selflessness made him loved by all. Since he was the eldest of all the princes, Bhishma advised Dhritarashtra to declare Yudhishthira as successor, and to crown him as, the prince first in line to the throne.
This upset Dhritarashtra who was hoping for his son Duryodhana to be his successor. But most of all, Duryodhana was deeply hurt by all this. His dream of becoming Crown Prince was shattered. Unable to tolerate it, burning with jealousy, he again began to plot against the Pandavas in order to safeguard the throne for himself. Even though all his earlier conspiracies had failed miserably, he was not ready to give up his efforts. So he laid out a plot with his brothers, his uncle Shakuni and his best friend Karna.
He went straight to his father and met with him privately, saying, “Father, the people of Hastinapura have lost their minds. They are not even respecting you or grandsire Bhishma. They want to make Yudhishthira the successor. Once Yudhishthira is crowned, that will be end of you and all of us Kauravas. None of us will ever be kings, not even our children.”
This made Dhritarashtra pause and think. Still, he tried to convince Duryodhana, describing Yudhishthira as being like his own brother Pandu, who was very kind and loving. Pandu would never have done anything unjust to the Kauravas, or to anyone for that matter. Dhritarashtra also warned Duryodhana, saying that Pandu was loved by all, which was also the case with Yudhishthira. It would be very hard to convince the people otherwise. Fighting against all of them would never bring the victory Duryodhana was expecting.
Duryodhana reminded his father that Grandsire Bhishma would be always loyal to the throne of Hastinapura, due to his great vow. Thereby Bhishma would always support Dhritarashtra, as long as he was the king. Dhritarashtra finally fell for his son’s plot against the Pandavas. Dhritarashtra had a soft spot for his brother’s children, but his love for his own children often overshadowed that. Because of this weakness, the love of his son Duryodhana, he often knowingly chose the wrong path.
The annual festival held in Varanavata was a great opportunity to accomplish the plot. Duryodhana asked his father to send the Pandavas, along with their mother Kunti, to participate in the annual festival. His request seemed strange at first, but Duryodhana emphasized the importance of sending Yudhishthira in the capacity of the Crown Prince, in accordance with the custom. He told his father that, while the Pandavas were away, he would try to convince those who supported the Pandavas and turn them into his allies. If needed be, by bribing them, as the last resort. Yet, Dhritarashtra was not giving in. It took more convincing from all the accomplices of Duryodhana, before Dhritarashtra agreed to cooperate with the plot.
However, Duryodhana hatched a more dreadful plot with his brothers, his uncle Shakuni and his best friend Karna. He approached Purochana, one of his ministers, for help. Under the strict supervision of Purochana, a beautiful palace was built at Varanavata. Its walls were made of lacquer, a highly flammable substance, while its roof was thatched so that it could catch fire at the slightest contact with a single spark of fire. The plan was to burn the Pandavas while they were sleeping at night, so that nobody would suspect foul play. Thus the death of the Pandavas would pass off as an accident.
Hearing about Varanavata and the famous festival, the Pandavas were thrilled about visiting there. With their mother Kunti, they left for Varanavata after being blessed by the elders and given well-wishes by the others. The people of Hastinapura followed them as far as they could go and then returned home.
Even though Purochana managed to get the palace built, only by bribing the builders, the news of terrible plot somehow leaked out. It reached Vidura’s ears. Knowing about Duryodhana’s plot, Vidura had wisely taken into confidence a builder involved in the construction. With his help, a secret tunnel was constructed as an escape path that led from the palace to an opening on the riverside. The builder managed to finish the task of digging the tunnel so secretly that even Purochana did not know about the underground escapeway.
Vidura alerted the Pandavas well in advance, even before they started off on their journey. As he was unable to meet the Pandavas privately, Vidura tactfully, in the presence of the Kauravas, warned the Pandavas about the imminent danger in an indirect way. On his going away blessings to Yudhishthira and the others, He said some cryptic words, “A weapon not made of steel or any other material element can be more than sharp to kill an enemy. He who knows this is never killed. The substance that devastates a forest and helps with the cold cannot hurt a rat, which shelters itself in a hole or a porcupine which burrows in the earth. The wise man knows his bearings by looking at the stars.”
Vidura’s tactical way of passing the message worked. Yudhishthira understood its meaning, knowing the means to escape the danger, which was imminent. This message made Kunti and her sons sad, that Duryodhana had started his plots to kill them again. All their happiness about going to Varanavata’s famous festival disappeared.
When Pandavas reached Varanavata, they acted as if they knew nothing about the plot. They attended the fair regularly, while spending most of the daytime hunting in the forest. This was to get familiar with the surroundings. At nightfall, they returned to the palace. They slept in the tunnel itself and not inside the palace. They did it in such a way that nobody knew they were not inside the palace at night. They kept close watch on the activities of Purochana.
Purochana was fully confident of the success of Duryodhana’s evil plan. Duryodhana was equally sure that the Pandavas would not be able to escape, and thus would never return back to Hastinapura.
On the last day of the fair, the Pandavas and Kunti performed a special puja and yaj~na, and gave away alms to the poor. That was the night Purochana had been waiting for, to set the fire to kill the Pandavas. It was a moonless dark night. Anticipating the plot, the Pandavas were alert and fully armed.
With a view to having an upper hand, Bheema got up at midnight. He set fire to the palace at different locations. He wanted to kill Duryodhana’s accomplices and weaken his enemy’s strength. Bheema escaped through the tunnel, along with his brothers and mother Kunti. In no time the palace was engulfed in horrible flames and reduced to ashes.
Unfortunately, a poor woman about the age of Kunti had attended the feeding ceremony that morning, along with her five adult sons. She stayed in the palace that night, as she didn’t have any other place to stay, so she and her sons, along with Purochana himself, were killed in the fire. Purochana had gotten caught in the fire when Bheema beat him to setting the palace on fire.
The Pandavas escaped through the underground tunnel and reached the riverbank of Ganga. Vidura had arranged for a boat for them, so when they came to the riverbank they found a boatman waiting for them, ready to ferry them across the river. They boarded the boat and safely landed on the other bank of the Ganga.
When the news about the catastrophe reached Hastinapura, the kingdom was hit by shock waves. Both Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana were pleased, relieved and extremely delighted in their hearts, outwardly they pretended to be very sorrowful and in grief. They were sure that the path to the throne was now clear for Duryodhana. Bhishma and other like-minded royal dignitaries were shocked at the sad happening. Their sorrow was indescribable indeed.
Duryodhana rushed to Varanavata. There he found burned bodies of a woman and five men. The death of Purochana surprised him, as it was he who was to set fire to the house. Duryodhana wondered why Purochana couldn’t save himself. Unfortunately, the burnt woman was the homeless woman with her five sons, who had sought refuge in the palace. After his survey, Duryodhana declared a state of mourning in the kingdom, returning to Hastinapura.
Outwardly Dhritarashtra and the Kauravas acted grief-struck, but in their hearts they were feeling ecstatic. They thought that the road was now clear, that all the hurdles in Duryodhana’s way to the throne had been taken care of. Grandsire Bhishma and other ministers were in state of shock and their sadness was beyond words. They were not in the mindset to suspect any foul play. Only Vidura knew the actual story, but didn’t say anything to anyone, leaving it to the Pandavas to emerge when they wished to. Though he knew they survived the fire, he didn’t know their whereabouts after they landed on the other side of Ganga.
On the other side of Ganga, Kunti and the Pandavas landed with a sigh and a deep breath. They thanked the boatman and disappeared into the jungle. At that point, they knew that Duryodhana was never going to let them live in harmony. At Kunti’s request, they decided they would sacrifice the throne for their mother’s peace of mind.
We had started to talk about the Kuru family, including the Pandavas and Kauravas, some time ago. It was after Krishna and Balarama had rushed to Hastinapura, having heard that their cousins from the Kuru family were in great danger. This was the incident that brought them to Hastinapura.
When I was a little girl, my dad would put me up on his shoulders. I loved to be lifted up in the air. At the fair one summer, he boosted me up in the night sky. I soared above the crowds. I wanted to stay there forever in timeless suspension. But what goes up must come down. And so I did.
As I grew, I got too big to be boosted up. So, I tried to boost myself up. Oh, how I wanted to soar. And sometimes I did. Yet, it seemed that gravity would always have its way as I came back down to “reality” every time.
My world changed though when I found my Guru, Gurudevi Nirmalananda. I got boosted in a whole new way. This time the boost was an inner boost. I discovered that the heights I’d looked for on the outside were just as vast on the inside. In fact, I realized that I had always sought the inner expanse.
It’s like when you climb a mountain. You get to the top and look out at the view. You see the vastness on the outside, which then triggers the feeling of the vastness within. When I received the inner boost, I was given a superpower. I no longer needed to climb a mountain to access the vastness inside. How does the Guru do this? Gurudevi’s Guru, Swami Muktananda, describes this boost:
“Make friends with him who lifts you up to his ownheight, who releases you from the snare of name and form, and makes you as free as himself. “
-Swami Muktananda, Mukteshwari, p. 181
A true Guru lifts you up to his or her own height. This height describes not how tall they are but rather their spiritual greatness. The Masters in this lineage are spiritual giants. They are completely free within. And they have the ability to free those who come to them.
What are they freeing you from? Muktananda says it is from “the snare of name and form.” Does that mean you won’t have a name? And you won’t have a body? No. It means while you still have a name and body, you are not limited by them.
The way that you interact with the world is through name and form. You have names for everything you see. And if you don’t have a name for it, you can simply look it up on the Internet. Your mind categorizes everything by giving it a name. This is quite necessary so that you can participate in the world. Yet your mind uses names to limit you.
On a more neutral level, your mind gives you names to define who you are. For example, you are a daughter or a son, a mother or a father, a teacher or student, a gardener, a baker, an athlete, a reader. These words name the things that you do and the relationships that you have. Yet, you are more than any of those names can describe.
In a more harmful way, your mind names your doubts and fears: I am not smart enough; I am not pretty or handsome enough; I am not charming enough; I am not good enough. Your mind can name all the things that make you feel small. Yet you are not small at all. The names are small, but you are more than the names. You are the vastness that you discover inside. You are that vastness and even more.
But what about form? Muktananda tells you to make friends with one who releases you from the snare of name and form. You don’t let go of form; rather, you let go of the snare of form. How does form snare you? Through the belief that you are your body. Yes, you have a body and how magnificent it is. As a human being you can do so much with your body. And it can be a trap. When you think that you are your body, you are then limited by what your body can do. And you know what? Your body can only do so much.
And then, there is your focus on the other forms of the world. You compare them to yourself. You question whether you measure up. You think that you want them, or you want to avoid them. In this way, you get completely lost in form.
A true Guru releases you from the snare of both name and form. Gurudevi guides you in finding the more that you are. A true Guru lifts you up to her own height by giving you inner freedom. This freedom is the freedom she found within herself. This freedom is the freedom her Guru gave her. This freedom is your own freedom. All you need to do is discover it, inside. How? By making friends with the Guru. You make friends with the Guru by doing the practices she gives you. Ah, that means you must do more yoga!
Many yoga classes end with bringing your hands together in anjali mudra (prayer pose). You may bow your head to the teacher and say, “Namaste.” Meditation programs with a Meditation Master might offer an opportunity to bow to them. Yoga is about knowing who you really are. It’s about you. So why do you bow to others?
Let’s step back and look at bowing around the world. I was introduced to bowing in church. Built into the pews were kneelers. Part way through the service, we would kneel, bow our heads and say a prayer. At an international conference, I was exchanging my business card with a gentleman from Japan. He held his business cards with both hands, bowed his head and handed one to me. Recently, I watched a video of the very popular Korean music group BTS. One of the group members spotted his parents in the crowd at a stadium performance. He immediately bowed down, fully prostrated, to his parents in front of thousands of fans. In many Eastern countries, children bow to their parents.
In the East, bowing is interwoven into their everyday life. In the West, we might bow at church. But in our day-to-day lives, bowing is not as popular. It is perceived as being submissive, inferior, and subservient. This is part of the definition of bowing. Yet bowing also means to lower your head or upper body as a sign of respect. The businessman was showing respect as he presented his business card, not submission. The BTS band member was showing gratitude for his parents, not subservience.
With the popular namaste greeting, bowing is gaining a better reputation in the West. During the pandemic, a news article recommended namaste as a replacement for shaking hands. While bowing may be weaving into our culture, why is bowing part of yoga? It’s the expression of respect and gratitude that is important. In yoga class, your teacher says “namaste” as an expression of respect for you. When you respond with “namaste,” you are expressing your gratitude. And yet it is more than gratitude. In my Yoga Teacher Training, this definition of namaste was shared:
I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me. We are one.
When you say “namaste,” you are cultivating your ability to be in that place. That place in you is where you are the One. That place is the source of love, truth, light, and peace. And from that place in you, you see the same One, being everyone and everything. There is only One here. How do you get to know yourself as the One? By bowing. Namaste literally means “bow to you.” Bowing is an act of honoring.
You are what you honor. If you honor education, you’ll go to school and earn a degree. You become educated. If you honor family, you’ll spend lots of time with them, create family traditions and memories. You’ll be a family man or woman. If you honor a sport, you’ll know all about it. You’ll play it or watch a lot of it on TV. You’ll wear sporting gear or a shirt with your favorite team’s logo. You’ll be a sports person. You are what you honor.
Yoga says to honor the One that you are so that you become that One. My Guru’s Guru described it this way, “When bow, you become one with that to which you are bowing.”
With the namaste greeting, you are bowing to the other person. Does that you mean that you become the other person? No. You are bowing to the One that is being the other person, while being you. This can get tricky when you are bowing to unenlightened beings. The not-knowing of their own One-ness blocks the light of the One shining through them. In contrast, when you bow to someone who knows their own One-ness and they see that One-ness in you, something different happens.
This has been my experience. Every time I bow to my Guru, Gurudevi Nirmalananda, I have an experience of my own One-ness. One day as I bowed to her, I had an inner vision of our universe. I was the whole universe and the whole universe was inside me. As I continued to surrender in my bow, my being expanded. I am not merely the universe; I am the infinity that includes the universe and beyond. I am the infinite One-ness. All of this from a bow.
When you bow to an Enlightened Being, they know their One-ness. They also see that same One in you. The One is being both the person bowing and the person being bowed to. The One is being the two honoring the One. That is the mystical play of bowing. Every time you bow, you play in that mystical non-dual duality. And when you bow to an Enlightened Being, they enliven that play. So you can know that you are the One bowing and the One being bowed to.
Guru Dronacharya was delighted to witness the talent of his pupils. He had spent many years teaching and training the cousins, the Kaurava and Pandava princes. As the Guru of the valiant princes of Hastinapura, he was now living a comfortable life. The entire kingdom of Hastinapura held him in high esteem. Especially Grandsire Bhishma was very cordial to him. He was honored and had been provided with all the facilities.
Despite all this, he was not quite happy. His mind was not at peace. Some pain was there in him, deep down, which kept bothering him. In fact, there was a burning desire to avenge someone. Yes, his bitter past was consuming his present in the form of revenge.
So, who is Guru Drona? What is this revenge that is consuming his heart all about?
Guru Drona was the son of Rishi Bharadvaja. It is said that, one fine day on a riverside, Rishi Bharadvaja saw an apsara (celestial nymph) named Ghritachi. The beauty of her filled his heart with desire and his seed fell into a pot. A baby boy was born from the pot. Drona’s name means “a boy who was born in a pot.”
Drona spent all his childhood in his father’s Ashram. There, he met Drupada, the prince of Panchala. They became the best of friends. Before returning to his palace, Drupada promised he would cherish their friendship forever and give Drona anything he desires, even half of his kingdom. Later Drona went to study under great Parashurama. There he learnt the skills of all of the weapons and gained many powerful celestial weapons too.
After learning all those great skills, Drona wanted to live a simple life. He was not interested in material wealth, so he soon became poor. He was known as a Brahmin scholar, a renowned master of archery and a great teacher. He married Kripi, the daughter of Sage Shardwan and sister of Kripacharya. They had a son named Ashwatthama. Day by day Drona became very poor and could hardly make ends meet. He would neither beg nor take any charitable donations.
One day while playing with friends, Drona’s son Ashwatthama saw his friends drinking a bowl of cow’s milk and smacking their lips. Ashwatthama had never tasted cow’s milk. He only knew the milk his mother’s breasts produced. Now Ashwatthama wanted to taste cow’s milk and demanded that he needed it right away.
Kripi tried to console Ashwatthama in many ways without giving him cow’s milk but failed. Poor Kripi, helpless and wanting to fulfill her son’s desire, mixed flour with water and gave it to him. Not knowing the taste of the milk Ashwatthama was thrilled that at last he got to drink cow’s milk. As Drona was watching this, his heart filled with horror and shame. He was shaken by this and was so upset.
He set out of his house determined to earn wealth and glory. Drona wondered where he could go or in which direction to turn? He also questioned his destiny. Suddenly he remembered about his childhood bosom friend & classmate, Drupada, who had now ascended on the throne of Panchala. He also remembered the promise that Drupada gave him before leaving his father’s Ashram, that he would give anything that Drona desired.
Drona’s face brightened. With great expectations, he sped towards Panchala, the capital city that his dear friend ruled. The journey was troublesome, but the hope he had in his heart made it feel manageable.
After days of traveling on foot, Drona reached Panchala. On the way he built up his expectations so high, he expected that his arrival would be a great function. The news of their king’s bosom friend paying a visit will be the news of the kingdom. He was thus expecting a huge welcome before being led to the King ceremoniously.
To his surprise nothing like that happened. The people of Panchala simply ignored him. No one cared for him even when he claimed to be the best friend of their king. They only laughed at his claim, as he was wearing beaten-down rag clothes.
As Drupada was now a king it was not easy to meet him. No one would help Drona either. After several days of efforts, Drona managed to enter the court of king Drupada, his dear friend from school days. So thrilled to see his dear friend, Drona formally introduced himself and began talking about their good old days.
The king Drupada looked at him as if he was any other person, showing no signs of friendship. Drona was shocked and very disappointed, and reminded Drupada of their friendship and all the good days they had together at Drona’s father’s Ashram. He tried to narrate the stories from the Ashram days, but Drupada said that Drona was merely a classmate. There was nothing more than that, not such a great friendship between them as Drona had put it.
Drona reminded Drupada of the promise he’d made while leaving the Ashram but Drupada laughed sarcastically, saying he didn’t remember any of it. Drona was enraged. Still controlling his raging anger, he humbly asked Drupada to help him in his hardship. But Drupada, filled with pride and ego, refused his request and said that he will even give two towns as charity to a Brahmin. Drona says that he had not come there as a beggar, but as a friend and that he would happily accept anything, even a single cow, as the honor of their friendship.
Drupada then insulted Drona by saying, how could a beggar be his friend. Drupada told his soldiers to expel the beggar out of his court. This really enraged Drona. Before leaving the court, he made a declaration that he would come back to the same court and take Drupada’s throne, but without using a single weapon. Instead, Drona would use his pupils to defeat Drupada.
Drona’s mind refused to be at peace until the betrayal was avenged. All he wanted was to take revenge on Drupada.
Humiliated Drona began to hate the world and decided to renounce the world to become an ascetic. That is when his fate brought him to the grounds of Hastinapura where he met the Kuru princes. Now he had become the beloved and revered Guru of the Kaurava and Pandava princes.
Even with all this glory, Drona’s desire for revenge still consumed his heart. He could not live in peace. Yes, the desire to avenge King Drupada was fresh in his mind. Now it was time to act and Guru Drona decided to accomplish this in the form of guru-dakshina.
Once the princes were fully trained, it was time for Guru Drona to ask for his guru-dakshina, the right of the teacher to demand a payment from his pupils. A Guru was entitled to a final payment from his pupil in which he could ask for anything. A true student was supposed to provide whatever the Guru desired as a sacred obligation. We have already witnessed this with Ekalavya.
One fine morning, Dronacharya called all the princes together. Drona said, “I have imparted to all of you the training in various martial skills and the use of weapons. Now it’s time for me to ask for my guru-dakshina.”
The princes asked Guru Drona what he would like to have as guru-dakshina. Guru Drona said, “Before I became your Guru, I was insulted by King Drupada in his court through no fault of mine. Although he had been my classmate and dearest friend, he humiliated me. I must teach him a lesson. I want him to be presented before me as a prisoner. Can any of you do this for your Guru?”
Arjuna immediately bowed his head to his Guru and with confidence said, “Revered Guru, at your command I will bring any king of this earthly realm to you bound in ropes. I take this as your command!” Hearing Arjuna’s words, Duryodhana jumped in, seeking permission from his father King Dhritarashtra to allow him to attack Drupada, to take the pride, as he knew this would weigh in toward becoming the crown prince. With his father’s blessings, all the Kauravas under the leadership of Duryodhana attacked Drupada.
King Drupada was all ready for the battle, expecting the Hastinapura army and its 105 princes. He formed his famous Drupada Chakra, a military formation that enemies could not easily escape. He had his eldest born son, Shikhandi, as his commander-in-chief.
Shikhandi is none other than Amba, who reincarnated to fulfill her revenge against Grandsire Bhishma. She was born as a baby girl to King Drupada, the king of Panchala. She was originally named Shikhandini due her female gender. It is said that, when she was a young girl, she wore the garland which hung at the palace door of King Drupada. She had left that garland when she was Amba, before she went into the forest.
When King Drupada saw his daughter wearing the garland, he became fearful of becoming Bhishma’s enemy, so he banished Shikhandini from the kingdom. Shikhandini performed austerities in the forest. She was transformed into a male named Shikhandi, and returned to Drupada with all the glory of her gender transformation.
King Drupada defeated all the Kauravas and Duryodhana easily, with the help of Shikhandi. They captured all the princes and made them their prisoners. While King Drupada was celebrating his victory, one of his soldiers broke the news to him that they had only 100 princes captured, not 105. Then came the Pandavas, led by Arjuna. After a fierce fight, they defeated Drupada and freed Duryodhana and the other Kaurava princes. Arjuna bound Drupada in ropes and brought him to Guru Drona.
At last Guru Drona got his revenge. He set Drupada free, saying that even though Drupada didn’t honor their friendship, Drona always did. But Drona retained half of the kingdom that had been promised to him, making his son Ashwatthama its king.
Humiliated, Drupada sought vengeance but realized that he could not match Drona’s might, not even with Shikhandi. So, Drupada performed the Putrakameshti Yaj~na, specifically to produce a son who could slay Drona. Also, admiring Arjuna’s might, Drupada wanted a daughter who could marry Arjuna.
After the successful completion of the yaj~na, the twins Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi emerged from the fire. Drupada was so delighted to see his children, were born from the fire.
I didn’t know I wanted a Guru, let alone to live in her house. But from a young age I knew I wanted… something. I was looking for something I couldn’t find in the choices that were presented to me. I was told that when I grew up I could be a ballerina, teacher, wife, mother, secretary, nurse.
Then I met Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati. She is a Guru, a spiritual teacher. She offered an additional option: I could be enlightened. She taught me about the Self, the Divine essence of my being. It’s not just of my being, but of your being. Your essence is the One Divine Essence that is being everything that exists, yet beyond everything that exists. The One is called Self. Because when you experience the One, you experience your Self. There’s only One, and it’s you.
Swami Nirmalananda (Gurudevi) doesn’t simply teach you about the Self. She gives you the experience of your Self. And she promises that one day you will never not know your own Divinity. You won’t merely have a glimpse of your Divine Essence; it will become your living experience. You will BE the Beingness you are. You will recognize everyone and everything that exists as another form of the same Divine Beingness. In this tradition, this is called Self Realization. It’s also called Enlightenment.
How can Gurudevi make that promise? An ancient yoga text explains:
Gururupaaya.h — Shiva Sutras 2.6
The Guru is the means and the goal.
The Guru is the way by which you can know your Self and become enlightened. Only if someone has something, can they give it to you. If I wanted to give you a cookie, I’d have to have a cookie to give. Gurudevi is a knower of the Self, so she can give that knowing to you. She has the ability spark an inner awakening in you, so that you know your own Self. The inner awakening is an initiation called Shaktipat.
A Shaktipat Guru is extremely rare. This initiation is her way of serving mankind; it is her gift to you. Once your inherent Divinity is revealed to you, you can’t go back to not-knowing. The pain and despair of feeling small, separate, and alone can no longer bind you.
At first, you can easily fall back into the old, limiting patterns in your mind. They tell you are small, that you are “less than.” But when you apply yourself to the practices, especially meditation, you dissolve those limiting patterns. Meditation by meditation, you have experiences of your Self.
You experience being happy, whole, fulfilled, peaceful, joyful, blissful. These become new Self-made patterns in your mind. Thus your mind will no longer block you. So you must do the practices. Once you receive Shaktipat initiation, your enlightenment is guaranteed. But you play a part in how quickly it will happen.
And so, I live in the Guru’s house. It’s called an Ashram. One reason I live here is that it’s an option. Gurudevi could live alone. But from her unending generosity and dedication to supporting others’ Self-Realization, she established her Ashram. She chose a home big enough that she can invite people in. And she created a daily structure filled with yogic practices: meditation and chanting and seva (selfless service). This structure ensures you are never too far away from your Self.
I live here because I’m dedicated to doing the practices that will get me enlightened. I’m dedicated because I’m motivated. Beneath everything else I’ve done in my life, there was a feeling that something was missing. And there was: my Self.
I also live at the Guru’s house because I want to give back. I want to support her and the organization she has created to give this inestimably precious gift to the world. There’s no amount that I can give that can equal the gift of my Self. But I try.
This doesn’t mean you have to live in an Ashram. Of course, it’s the purpose of a human life: to become Self-Realized. It’s your personal destiny. But you can experience the truth of your own being while you continue to live your life. You can meditate, you can know the Self, you can be Self-Realized. And you’ll continue to live the same life, with your same family. You can do the things you’ve always done.
Except… you’ll be happy. More than happy, you will know you own Divinity wherever you are in the world. Whatever you see, you’ll be looking into the mirror of your Divinity all the time. You get to choose if this is something that you want. If you do, Gurudevi can help you get it.