When I grew up in Manhattan, cranes and wrecking balls demolishing old buildings were a constant presence. My neighborhood transformed from rundown six-story tenements to twenty-story high-class apartment buildings. I watched through eyelevel holes cut into the tall wooden fences around the construction sites. The physical force and energy of the demolition was most fascinating. In a moment, this power turned walls that had stood for a century into rubble.
I witnessed the power of destruction on the outside. This power is also a spiritual force within each human being. In yoga, it is one of the functions of the Ultimate Reality, called Shiva. Along with destruction, Shiva has four other cosmic powers: creation, maintenance, concealment and revelation. When acting as a force of destruction, Shiva is called Bhairava. Bhairava opens you up and destroys your limiting delusion of who you think you are. The Shiva Sutras, an ancient yogic text, explains:
Udyamo Bhairava — Shiva Sutras 1.5
The upwelling of consciousness within you reveals your own Divinity. — Rendered by Gurudevi Nirmalananda
Bhairava shakes up your complacency and comfort. Bhairava propels you past the familiar illusion of who you think you are. You are propelled into the awareness of yourself as Consciousness Itself. This is your own Self.
I always had a subtle, persistent inner yearning. I now can name it as the desire to know my Self. Back then, though, I was always looking for something to fill this yearning. I really did not know what I was looking for. Yet this longing sent me searching. I lived in many different places with a variety of people. I took many different healing and personal growth trainings and workshops. Each gave me a bit of what I was looking for, at least for a moment. Still, nothing fully touched the longing I had felt since I was a teenager.
Then I took a weekend yoga workshop with Gurudevi Nirmalananda. As the weekend progressed, a profound feeling of “rightness” arose within me. For so long, this experience was what I had been searching for. As I was driving home, everything was different. Something big had opened within me through Gurudevi’s Svaroopa® yoga practices. I felt alive. I felt that everything was just right. Within, I could feel the something more I’d been seeking. Gratitude, joy and bliss welled up and filled that amorphous hole of yearning inside!
The exhilarating force of Bhairava brought me to the knowing my Own Self within. Bhairava was also the yearning that had set me searching for something I couldn’t define. This inherent longing had started me on the path of a seeker. It ultimately took me to that transformative yoga workshop with Gurudevi.
The awakening to your own Self is not just theoretical nor is it obscure. Your yearning leads you to doing yoga practices like yoga poses and meditation. The practices thin out the layers that hide the knowing of who you are. You become aware of the deeper dimension of your own being, which you earnestly desire.
In the Svaroopa® yoga lineage, you have the support of Gurudevi Nirmalananda. She has traveled the path to being established in knowing herself as Consciousness Itself. She elucidates the path for you and speeds your progress. From Gurudevi you receive Grace that fuels your internal transformation, the awakening of your spiritual energy. This gift is called Shaktipat. It jumpstarts the process of your inner upliftment. You are blasted past your resistances and the walls of delusion crumble.
Through Shaktipat, Bhairava’s cosmic power destroys your limitations. You open inward to a deep freedom, which is your inherent nature. The “not knowing” of your Self is ended. You come to know your Self as Consciousness-Itself. Moving out of the cramped “tenement” of mistaken ideas of who you are, yoga realize your own Self. You live in that expansive inner state, illuminated by the upwelling of your own Divine Light.
Having just married Kunti, Pandu went to war, conquering or allying with many kingdoms in the name of Hastinapura. When he approached the Madra Kingdom, he found a huge army awaiting him. During the battle, he saw King Shalya’s charioteer driving the chariot as fast as lightning. After the war ended in a truce, Shalya revealed that the charioteer was none other than his own sister, Madri. Shalya proposed that the two kingdoms avoid war in the future through marriage and a gift of their friendship. Pandu accepted his wish willingly and married Madri.
He brought his new bride to Hastinapura. At the first sight of another woman with her husband, and due to the behavior of Madri acting smart, Kunti got a bit upset. But as time passed, she became a loving sister of Madri. However, Madri continued to have a little bit of a superiority complex, thinking that the kingdom of Madra was superior to the kingdom of the Yadavas, the cattle clan, into which Kunti was born. But they were both devoted to Pandu and Pandu loved them both equally. They later grew into loving each other as sisters.
Under Pandu’s rule, the Hastinapura kingdom flourished. He was a passionate hunter and an excellent archer. During one of his hunting trips, he killed a pair of deer who were engaged in romance, which was against the rules of hunting. The pair was Rishi Kindama and his wife who were making love in the form of deer. The dying sage placed a curse on Pandu, that if he were to approach his wife with the intent of sexual relations, his head would explode and he would die. Before Pandu could defend himself, the sage died. With the curse on his head, he returns to the palace with a heavy heart.
He couldn’t forgive himself for the crime he committed. He decided to abdicate the throne of Hastinapura and go into a hermetical retreat. Bhishma and Vidura tried convincing him otherwise, but Pandu couldn’t be convinced. The governance of Hastinapura, in the absence of a king, was bestowed upon Dhritarashtra, until Pandu returned or Pandu’s son came to claim the throne. Dhritarashtra was happy to be the governor of Hastinapura, thinking that, due to Pandu’s curse, he and his children will get to rule the kingdom. Pandu left for his hermetical retreat with by his two wives, Kunti and Madri.
Pandu got unhappier by the day due to not being able to give an heir to the Hastinapura kingdom. Also Kunti and Madri were directly affected by the curse as they were denied the opportunity to bear children. Kunti had not revealed to anyone the boon she had, due to the secret she carried with it, her first-born whom she left afloat in the river Ganga.
Unable to bear husband’s sorrow, Kunti revealed the boon that she received from Sage Durvasa, though not about her first-born, Karna. When Pandu heard about this blessing, he was in ecstasy. He asked Kunti to use the five mantras to give birth to heirs to the Hastinapura kingdom.
First, Pandu suggested that Kunti call Dharmaraj, to get a truthful, knowledgeable and righteous son to rule Hastinapura. Kunti used the Mantra for Dharmaraj, the God of Dharma, Lord Yama. Dharmaraj appeared and gave Kunti the boon of a son. This eldest son of Pandu was named Yudhishthira. Pandu was overjoyed, as he had become a father.
He asked Kunti to use her second mantra. This time she called upon the Vayu Bhagavan, the God of Wind. Vayu Bhagavan appeared and gave Kunti the second son. A big fat bonny baby, they called him Bhima.
Then Kunti invited God Indra, the king of the Devas, as requested by Pandu, Indra gave her their third son, who they named Arjuna.
Pandu wanted more children and asked Kunti to use the rest of the two mantras she had. Kunti thought for a minute and called Madri, who was feeling sad as she was not part of bearing children for her husband, Pandu. Kunti gave the final two mantras to Madri to use for the boon from the Ashwini Kumaras, the divine twin horsemen, who were Physicians for all the other Devas. They appeared in front of Madri and gave her twin sons, Nakula and Sahadeva. Madri was so thankful to Kunti, and from that day forward, they became two mothers with one heart.
Pandu was filled with happiness and thanked Kunti for keeping his dynasty going. Pandu and his family continued to live in the forest hermitage happily. These five children were called the Pandavas.
In the meantime, in Hastinapura, Gandhari was carrying her child for more than a year. Dhritarashtra was furious about the delay in his child’s birth. To revenge Gandhari, he took one of Gandhari’s maids to bed. On top of all this, hearing the news about the birth of Kunti’s eldest child made things worse for Gandhari. She fell into jealousy and frustration, hit her stomach so strong, desperately wanting to give birth, only to result in the birth of lump of flesh.
Once again Great-grand Queen Satyavati’s firstborn Vyasa came to the rescue. With the help from Sage Vyasa, Gandhari’s lump of flesh turned into hundred sons and a daughter. The hundred sons were the blessings of Lord Shiva to Gandhari and the daughter was an additional blessing from Vyasa himself. Among the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, the eldest was named Duryodhana, meaning unconquerable, the second born was named Dushasana, meaning bad governance and the third was named Vikarna, meaning large eared. The daughter was Dushala.
Dhritarashtra loved them all very much, especially Duryodhana. Dhritarashtra also had a son named Yuyutsu, from the maid, making him a half-brother to the children of Gandhari. The hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari were called the Kauravas. Even though Kauravas were born as a blessing from Lord Shiva, their untimely arrival was at an inauspicious time, due to Gandhari’s impatience. This changed their destiny forever.
A few years passed and the children were growing up. Yudhishthira, being the oldest was very mature and saw the good in every person, even of the worst people. As he was a boon of Dharmaraj, Yudhishthira upheld the Dharma, righteousness all the time, never to lie and always to keep his word. He was always following the path of Dharma.
Bhima was mighty as the wind, having the power of hundred elephants. He was a great fan of food. His appetite was so huge such that he would consume half of the food prepared by Kunti and Madri. He was the strongest of the five.
Arjuna had the skills like no other, in politics and the art of warfare. He was the most loving of them all, giving affection towards all his loved ones. His skill in archery was amazing.
Nakula was great in religion and science, he was the most handsome of them all. He was also Bhima’s favorite brother. He made fun of Bhima and his appetite any chance he got.
Sahadeva was a very learned, the most knowledgeable of the five. He was an astrologer beyond any other. He had great intuition and could foresee the near future. His intuition never failed him and his brothers.
Kunti and Madri looked after the five without any difference. They preached to the five to be always united, never to divide. They explained that if they were united, no power would be able to defeat them. They always obeyed their mothers’ wishes. If one got punished, all of them took the same punishment and when one was praised all of them took the praise.
In Hastinapura, Duryodhana and his brothers were growing up too. Shakuni, the brother of Gandhari, was always with the children, ill advising them and making them hate their cousins, the children of Pandu who were in the hermitage with Pandu, even before the Kauravas knew the Pandavas.
One day, Madri as usual was plucking flowers in the garden. By the looks of Madri, Pandu felt desire for Madri. The memory of the curse briefly eluded him. He approached her filled with desire; death struck Pandu immediately. Madri was filled with remorse.
Pandu’s death brought so much grief to Kunti, Madri and the Pandavas. Kunti, being the first wife, decided to become “sati,” meaning to throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. This worried Madri as she thought Kunti would be a better mother to the Pandavas than her. Also, her guilt at being the cause of her husband’s death, prevented her to live another day on earth without him. She knew Kunti would do justice to all the five children and that she could leave them in her motherly care while joining her husband peacefully.
At first Kunti refused the idea. After Madri’s enormous efforts, at last Kunti was convinced and agreed. She promised Madri that she had always considered Nakula and Sahadeva as her own children and now more than ever she would give special attention towards them. Hearing this Madri sat with Pandu’s dead body on the funeral pyre and became “sati.” Kunti performed the last rites with the five children. She vowed to dedicate herself to the upbringing of the Pandavas. The Pandavas under the loving care of their mother Kunti became a united force.
The Rishis of the forest took them to Hastinapura to hand them over to Bhishma. The eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira was sixteen. The dreadful news about Pandu’s death had reached the palace. Bhishma immediately rushed in with Vidura, Dhritarashtra and all the royal family members to welcome Kunti and the Pandavas. The whole of Hastinapura mourned Pandu’s death as though one of their family members had died. It showed that Pandu was loved by all the citizens of Hastinapura wholeheartedly. The Sage Vyasa warned Great-grand Queen Satyavati, saying that all that had happened until now was to be considered good compared to what would happen in the future of Hastinapura. There would be deceit, hatred and sorrow. He advised her not to witness this by staying at the palace, but to go to the forest to live peacefully in her old days, living a hermit’s life. After listening to her Sage son’s advice, Satyavati agreed to leave the palace with her two daughters-in-law, Ambika and Ambalika. All three of them lived a hermitic life through their last days on earth, escaping the horrible future of Hastinapura.
How will the pandemic play out? Who will win the U.S. Presidential election? How will it impact me? You ask these questions because you want certainty in the future. You seek this certainty because you have forgotten the certainty of your own existence. Your own existence is unchanging, eternal. You will feel unsettled until you know and live from that inner certainty. It’s time to stop looking for certainty in the world and find your eternal, unchanging Essence within.
Technology can make us feel like we are in control of our lives, providing the illusion of certainty. “Siri, set a timer for 5 minutes.” “Alexa, play music I like.” Our phones are smart. Our homes are getting smarter. Stores are opening with no cashiers and no checkout lines. Technology has helped declutter your mind of telephone numbers as well as appointment times and dates. Yet your mind still churns.
You try to calm your mind by finding certainty in external circumstances. But you are looking in the wrong place. To find certainty, look for it in your own existence. The sages from India describe your innermost Essence as unchanging and eternal. In the Vivekachudamani, the 8th century yogic sage Shankaracharya described this Essence:
Aatmaan [your Divine Existence] is birthless and deathless. It neither grows nor decays. It is unchangeable, eternal. It does not dissolve when your body dissolves. — Translated by Swami Nirmalananda
You exist beyond birth and death. You have never not existed. You will never stop existing. Nothing you can take away from yourself will make you less you. Nothing you can add will make you more you. You are unchanging and eternal. You exist. Your existence is the one Eternal Existence that is being everyone and everything.
I remember my first experience of the eternity of my beingness. It was early on in my meditation path. An awareness arose that I always existed and will always exist. It was a knowing beyond my intellect. Having been steeped in the time-space continuum from my scientific education, my intellect was blown away. I could not understand my experience with my mind. Yet I knew my Eternal Beingness was more real than anything my mind could ever understand.
It is incredible that I had such a profound experience of my own eternality so early on in meditation. This is the specialty of Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation: a Meditation Master shows you the way. Swami Nirmalananda is a modern day-Meditation Master, a representative of an unbroken lineage of Masters. She opens the door inside to your own certain Existence. She is the catalyst that fuels the discovery, making it quick and easy.
Well, at least she makes it quicker and easier. This is a process of discovering and learning to abide in your own Existence. It is a bit peculiar: if you are eternal, beyond time, why don’t you know it all the time? The answer is a four-letter word: mind. Your mind draws you outward.
Your mind runs around the world seeking certainty that can only be found inside. It’s not just your mind. Everyone’s mind does this. It’s called the human dilemma. Each of us is the one eternal Existence, yet we don’t know. It is the ultimate quest in life — to know your own eternal Existence. So your mind needs to do some work.
By using your mind to turn inward, you can discover and live in the certainty of your own Existence. Abiding in your eternal Essence, you continue to live in the world. But you approach it from a different place within yourself. While living in this uncertain world, you are based in the certainty of your eternal Existence. To get there, follow the path shown by Swami Nirmalananda and dive within.
Deep and easy. This is the specialty of Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation. Even first-time meditators often experience deep meditative absorption in their very first meditation. We call this “dropping in.” You sit and repeat the mantra (your tool for meditation). After only a few repetitions, you settle into a deeper dimension within yourself.
The first few times you “drop in,” you may think you fell asleep. But this is not the same as sleep. Instead of going into unconsciousness, you are delving into Consciousness-Itself. When you open your eyes after your meditation, you feel more energized, expanded and settled within. This is something different than sleep. This is the beginning of your awakening.
Awakening is a good description because you progressively become more aware as you continue meditating. Awake means “to become conscious or aware of something.” That is what happens when you meditate — you become aware of something. You become aware of your own Divine essence, which is pure, whole and complete. Yoga calls this your Self. Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation gives you easy access to your own essence, your own Self.
This experience changes how you feel within yourself, even when you’re not meditating. You feel better, more alive and more you. Yet you may not know how you got to that deeper level or how to stay there. You plunge in and then, like a cork in water, you bob out. Inside and outside seem disconnected. How do you bridge that gap?
When I first started meditating, I was a school teacher. I squeezed all my yoga practices into the morning before my 8 am start time. It was a tight schedule. Everything was planned down to the minute, so when I finished meditating, I would jump up! And then I was off to the next thing on my list. There was no time for me to linger after my meditations. So, I felt a disconnect between my meditation seat and my day-to-day life.
You can extend your meditations beyond your mediation seat. Simply linger after your timer goes off. When you open your eyes, contemplate your meditation experience for a few minutes. Notice how you feel. Linger in the afterglow. This is one of the reasons why we recommend journaling after every meditation. It helps you to linger longer in your meditation.
Lingering is described by K.semaraaja in the Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam:
The permanent state of absorption is cultivated by dwelling on one’s own identity with consciousness (Chiti) over & over again.
— Translated by Swami Nirmalananda
The sage K.semaraaja explains that not only is it possible to linger in your meditation, you can cultivate a “permanent state of absorption.” He is describing a pathway to Self-Realization. You can realize and live in this knowingness of who you are at the deepest level of your being.
You can practice Self-Knowingness. It starts with meditation. You repeat mantra and dive deep within to experience your own Divine essence. When you finish your meditation period, instead of jumping up and out, linger and deepen down and in. Instead of leaving meditation for the world, extend your awareness to include the world without losing who you are. This is the state the great Masters have described through the ages. But it is not exclusive to those who lived in the past. This is possible for you too. To make this a reality, in the here and now, meditate. Meditate and linger in your own essence. Take that knowing and being of who you are with you into the world and into your life. Cultivate Self-Knowingness.
After the incident with Amba, with Parashurama’s blessings, Bhishma returned to the palace. Life went on with Vichitravirya happily spending time with Ambika and Ambalika. Unfortunately, even after seven long years, Vichitravirya wasn’t blessed with a child. Everyone was starting to get worried. Then, one dreadful day, all of a sudden, Vichitravirya became ill and passed away without leaving any heir to the throne of Hastinapura. This created a great problem for the kingdom. Bhishma was there to defend it and safeguard it from other kingdoms, but bound by his vow, he refused Satyavati’s repeated requests to ascend the throne. Dishonoring his vow was something he could not accept; it would be the ultimate shame. Satyavati felt the brunt of it, as it was her doing or her father’s doing that the kingdom was without a king or an heir. This was bad omen for sure.
Satyavati was trapped in a dilemma with no solution in sight, until one day she remembered her other son, the sage Dvaipayana. Also known as Vyasa, he had been born to her and the sage Parashara. As Vyasa had promised when he left to do penance in the forest, the moment she thought about him, he appeared in front of her. Vyasa had done a great many things since he last saw his mother. Satyavati cried as soon as she saw her long-forgotten son. Vyasa consoled her and asked what he could do for her to help her with her predicament. Satyavati told Vyasa the whole story and the situation with the vacant throne of Hastinapura. Vyasa promised his mother that he would not leave until the situation was resolved. Vyasa’s words calmed Satyavati down. Vyasa offered that he would bless each of the queens with a boon, a son.
Satyavati was delighted that her problem was going to be solved. She called both Ambika and Ambalika the widows of Vichitravirya, to tell them that sage Vyasa will be giving them a boon of a son, and for them to go to him one by one. They were both astonished by this command from their mother in law. As mentioned earlier, Vyasa was already a less handsome person, and with all his penance in the forest, he was ugly and crude looking.
Ambika went in first, as she was the elder queen. Vyasa’s looks frightened her, so she closed her eyes in horror while Vyasa was giving her the boon. He called Satyavati and told her that the son born to Ambika will be healthy, powerful, and have great physical strength, but will be blind because Ambika had her eyes closed.
Disappointed by these words from her son, Satyavati next sent the younger queen, Ambalika. Ambalika saw Vyasa’s dreadful ugly face and turned extremely pale out of fear while he was giving her the boon. Again, Vyasa called his mother and told her that the son of Ambalika would be pale in complexion and likely to have illness all through his life, but that he would be brave. Satyavati felt awful and hurt.
She requested her son to give one more chance to Ambika. She again sent Ambika to the sage. But Ambika was so afraid to see Vyasa again that, without her mother-in-law knowing, she sent one of her maids, Parishrami, disguising her in grand garments. Parishrami was fearless and greeted the sage humbly with respect & devotion. Vyasa gave her the boon and told her that her son would be talented, wise, artful, diplomatic and a great learned man. He also said that her son would free her from her life of being a maidservant. Just after this, Vyasa left Hastinapura. Satyavati doesn’t come to know about this mix-up until later.
In due course, each of the three women gave birth to a son. Ambika’s son was blind, and he was called “Dhritarashtra.” Ambalika’s pale son was named “Pandu” and Parishrami’s son was named “Vidura.” All three were brought up in the palace with all the training that a prince would get. Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were taught the fields of archery, politics, administration and religion by Bhishma and Kripacharya, the kula guru of the Kuru dynasty. As Vyasa had said, Dhritarashtra was hindered by his handicap, thus unable to wield weapons, but he had the strength of multiple elephants. Pandu was an excellent archer. Vidura was well balanced in weaponry and diplomacy. Vidura too was a great archer. The three of them grew up to be young adults.
Bhishma and Satyavati decided that it was time to crown the new king. As Dhritarashtra was the eldest, he was named to be the king.
All his life Dhritarashtra dreamt himself to be a king. That consoled him from not being able to see. On the day of the coronation, Bhishma first appointed Vidura as the Chief Minister of Hastinapura, saying he is the best person for the position as he was very learned. Then Dhritarashtra was called upon to be crowned. Just then, Vidura, as the Chief Minister of Hastinapura, intervened to stop the coronation, saying that, according to the law, a blind person cannot be crowned as a king of a country as he will not be able to use the most important sense of all, sight. Sight is the most important sense to a person uses to dispense justice. When he was questioned about why he brought this matter up at the last moment, he said that he would have been the happiest person to see his brother Dhritarashtra crowned as the king, and therefore he would have not intervened in the matter. But since he has been appointed as the Chief Minister of Hastinapura, his duty was not to let something against the law take place in the kingdom.
Dhritarashtra stormed out of the royal court, and accused Pandu and Vidura of conspiring against him, as Vidura suggested that the next in line be crowned, which was Pandu. Pandu was heartbroken as he loved his elder brother, Dhritarashtra, more than anything in the world. He loved him so dearly that it was so hard for him to take his place, especially without his blessings. Since there was no other way, Pandu agreed to be crowned and rule the kingdom. Dhritarashtra’s enmity for Pandu grew day by day as he saw him on the throne, thinking the kingdom was robbed from him by his brother. But there was nothing he could do.
Time passed, and it was time for them to get married. Dhritarashtra was looking forward to getting married so that he could see the world through his wife’s eyes and that there will be someone he could completely trust. Bhishma and Satyavati thought that Gandhari, the princess from the Gandhara kingdom, daughter of king Subala and his wife Vasumathi, would be a good fit for Dhritarashtra. Gandhari was the most beautiful woman in Bharatvarsha. She had worshipped Lord Shiva and gained the boon that she could have one hundred sons. This was indeed one of the reasons why Bhishma and Satyavati wanted her to be married to Dhritarashtra. Gandhari’s brother was Shakuni, who loved her very much and would not let anything bad happen to his beloved sister.
Bhishma visited king Subala and forced him to agree to the marriage between his daughter and Dhritarashtra. Everyone feared Bhishma so it was not any different in the case of king Subala. To avoid a war with Bhishma and to strengthen his kingdom, king Subala agreed to the marriage, knowing Dhritarashtra was blind. Gandhari was happy that her parents had found her a suitable groom, though at that point she didn’t know that Dhritarashtra was blind.
Gandhari’s brother Shakuni was not in the kingdom when the agreement between Bhishma and king Subala took place. When he returned to Gandhara and heard about the arrangement, he was furious with his father. As he was so protective of his sister, he couldn’t bear the thought that his cherished sister was getting married to a blind man. During the argument with his father, Shakuni took a dagger and inflicted a wound to himself, saying he will remember the injustice to his sister, in every moment in his life. On that day, he vowed that his only goal was to bring down the kingdom of the Kuru dynasty and make Bhishma pay for his arrogant way of getting his sister into a marriage to a blind person. Gandhari, overhearing the argument, came to know that her husband-to-be is blind. Instantaneously she made a vow that she will only see the world the way her husband sees it. Sacrificing her sight by blindfolding herself with a piece of cloth, she vowed never to take it off.
The wedding of Gandhari to Dhritarashtra happened in a grand way. At the wedding Dhritarashtra found out about his wife’s vow of blindfolding herself for the rest of her life. Dhritarashtra was furious, in disbelief that his dream of looking at the world through his wife’s eyes has been smashed into pieces. He didn’t give Gandhari proper respect for a long time, as he was thinking she deceived him. With time as the healer, they made amends and carried forward with their lives.
After the wedding of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, Bhishma and Satyavati started looking for a suitable wife for Pandu. Shurasena’s daughter, Pritha, came up on the top of the list. Pritha was better known as Kunti as she was brought up by Shurasena’s childless cousin, Kuntibhoja. Krishna’s grandfather, Shurasena, gave his daughter to Kuntibhoja to be brought up as his own. Therefore, Kunti is indeed Krishna’s aunt, his father Vasudeva’s sister.
Kunti was a very beautiful, humble, down to earth, intelligent and a straight-forward person. But she had a secret buried deep within her, known only to her and one of her maids. From her youth, Kunti had great respect towards the sages and rishis. Once she was serving and looking after sage Durvasa when he visited her father. Sage Durvasa was very pleased with Kunti’s care and devotion for him, so he blessed her with six mantras which she could use to invoke a particular God for each mantra. The God would then bless her with a child with the God’s characteristics. After the sage left, out of childish curiosity, Kunti uttered the mantra for the Sun God, to test the authenticity of the mantras. Immediately the Sun God appeared in front of her. Astonished by his presence, she didn’t know what to do. She was happy that the mantra worked, and the Sun God was in front of her, but she also knew what was coming next. The Sun God blessed her with a baby boy. Kunti pleaded with the Sun God, saying she uttered the mantra by mistake, and to relieve her from having the baby as it will be a taboo to have a child without getting married. The Sun God refused, saying once the mantra is used, there is no way to take it back. But he blessed her that, by having the baby, she will not lose her virginity.
The baby boy was born with the brightness of the Sun God himself. Also, the baby was born with a set of golden earrings and a sacred armor attached to his body. Out of fear of the public, Kunti, with a heavy heart, decided to abandon the child. With the help of one of her trusted maids, she placed the baby in a basket wrapped with one of her sacred cloths and set it afloat on the waters of the Ganga river. Even though the baby floated away, the guilt stayed in Kunti’s heart forever.
The basket with the baby floated downstream and reached Hastinapura. A charioteer named Adhiratha and his wife Radha found the basket with the baby. They longed for a child so they started bringing up the baby as their own. They thought it was a blessing for them from the Gods and told nobody about their finding. Even though he was lovingly named as Vasusena by his foster parents, he was mostly known as Karna because of his golden earrings. The rest of Karna’s story will come later. Pandu and Kunti were wedded, making Kunti the Queen of Hastinapura. When the couple came to Hastinapura after the wedding, Dhritarashtra was not there to welcome them due his grudge against Pandu, but Gandhari was there with a smile to welcome the newlyweds. Gandhari continued to be a big sister for Kunti. Pandu ruled Hastinapura and started expanding his kingdom.
You have a built-in ability to meditate. Most people that I know who don’t currently meditate believe it’s a good idea. But they aren’t sure where to begin. Some think it might be hard or weird. However, you actually already know how. When you drive a car, play a musical instrument or engage in a sport, you concentrate. Even to wash dishes or have a conversation with a friend, you focus. It’s something you do many times every day. It’s how you achieve anything in the world. My Guru’s Guru taught that whatever you accomplish in the world, comes through your power of concentration. This is nothing but meditation, though on external things.
You are used to meditating on external, everyday things. But your mind is like the camera on your phone. Your camera focuses on what’s in front of you. Or you tap a button to flip the camera to focus on yourself. You can do that with your mind: flip the lens of your mind to shift your focus from looking outside to looking inside. And what will you find when you look within?
Well, first you’ll encounter the contents of your mind: hopes, fears, memories, lions, tigers and bears, oh my! But all that mental activity, while real and important, is only the surface layer of what you’ll find. There’s much more to you. Yoga calls the more that you are, your capital-S Self.
A classic yogic comparison is that your Self is like the ocean. Like the waves that keep on coming, your thoughts rise and fall, rise and fall. But the waves are only the surface of the ocean. In the same way, your thoughts are simply the surface level of who you are. You have far greater depths.
When you dive beneath the waves, the water is calmer. It’s quieter, and deeply peaceful. When you meditate, you dive deeper than your thoughts, even deeper than your mind, into quiet, boundless, holy depths. You discover you are not just a swimmer in the ocean. You are the whole ocean. From the shallows to the depths, you are all of it. It’s called the “Ocean of Consciousness.” There’s only One Reality. It’s Divine. It’s your own Self.
Meditation immerses you in the depths of your Divinity. When you emerge, you’re refreshed, renewed and uplifted. You don’t become someone different or something you are not. You feel like you; you’re at your best. At first, that wonderful feeling of well-being fades as you get farther from your meditation. But over time your ability to live from your Divine Depths increases. Even though you have the inherent ability to meditate, you have to practice. You spend too much of your time paddling around in the waves. You won’t become an accomplished deep-sea diver overnight. And the technique you choose matters; you need one that works for you. Something tried and true. Something that makes it easy. I found that in Svaroopa®Vidya Meditation. This meditation works by the means of a chaitanya mantra. That means it’s enlivened. It is imbued with the energy of revelation and upliftment by the yoga masters of this lineage. These Gurus have preceded you on the path. When you apply your innate ability to concentrate to this enlivened mantra, you are powerfully propelled into the delicious depths of your Self. Then your meditation is more than easy — it’s enlightening.
Reaching the Yamuna river, the fishermen village, Devavrata met Satyavati and her father Dashraj, the tribal fishermen chief. Devavrata spoke to them about his father’s desire and the refusal due to the condition imposed by Dashraj. Dashraj emphasized again the importance of his daughter becoming the queen, saying that he didn’t have any doubt that she would fit into that role beautifully. Also, he reiterated that her children should be the ones who would rule Hastinapura after King Shantanu.
Devavrata promised that he would give up the right to the Hastinapura throne, so that his father could marry Satyavati. Satyavati’s father thought for a minute. Then he said that he was happy to see a son who is willing to give up the throne for his father’s happiness, which had never been heard of in any kingdom. But he said that he was not sure that Devavrata’s sons will give up the right to the throne as easily as their father. They may be as valiant as their father and therefore become a threat to his daughter and her children.
Hearing this, Devavrata, determined to fulfill his father’s desires, unexpectedly took his knife out and cut his palm. He said, “I, Devavrata, with my blood, make a vow in my mother Ganga’s name, that I will remain a brahmachari (celibate) for the rest of my life, and not produce any heir.”
All the devas appeared in the sky and showered flowers on Devavrata for the unbelievable vow he had taken. Satyavati’s father was speechless. After a while, he then said, “Devavrata, I truly admire your love towards your father. Taking a vow not to marry for the happiness of your father, I am flabbergasted. It has never been done before and I am certain it will never be done in the future too. I give my daughter in marriage to your father with honor. Please take her to your father at once.” Devavrata was so happy. He set off to the palace with Satyavati in the chariot.
When King Shantanu saw Satyavati coming to the palace in Devavrata’s chariot, he was overwhelmed with happiness. He praised his son for bringing his love to him. He hugged him with affection and blessed him with all his heart. Then he held Satyavati’s arm and took her into the palace. Devavrata bowed down to his father and returned to his chambers with heart filled with joy that he could see his father happy again.
King Shantanu was anxious to know how Satyavati’s father had agreed for their marriage. So, at the first chance he got, he asked from Satyavati, what transpired between her father and Devavrata. Satyavati told him the complete story, and when she finished it, the king was shocked beyond his limits. Understanding the extreme severe vow his son had taken to make him happy, he felt giddy. He passed out, in such grief that he had never felt in his life before, uttering the words, “Ek Bhishma Pratigya!” meaning, a most dreadful pledge.
All the Devas appeared in the sky and called out, “Bhishma! Bhishma! Bhishma! Blessed Devavrata,” and said that going forward Devavrata will be known as Bhishma. They also gave him a boon that he could decide the time and place of his death. From that day onwards, Devavrata was called Bhishma! Only then did Satyavati come to understand the seriousness of the situation that her father and she had created for the throne of Hastinapura .
As everyone knows, time is the great healer. So, in time, Shantanu and Satyavati were reconciled to what happened. In due course, Satyavati had two boys. The elder was named Chitrangada and the younger was named Vichitravirya. Years passed and after Shantanu’s death, Chitrangada was crowned as the king of Hastinapura, but he didn’t last long. Though he was a great warrior, he fell in a battle a short time later. The king of the Gandharvas, for his name’s sake, came to challenge Chitrangada. A fierce battle took place between the two warriors which lasted a long time, but in the end the king of the Gandharvas defeated Chitrangada and killed him. This made the Hastinapura throne vacant. Though Vichitravirya was a minor, he was crowned to be the ruler of Hastinapura. As Bhishma promised to Satyavati, that he would protect the throne of Hastinapura and treat whoever sits on it as his father’s image, he served the king faithfully. Bhishma became the Guru and guardian of Vichitravirya. Unfortunately, Vichitravirya grew up to be a person who was not physically strong and lacked qualities to be a true king.
When Vichitravirya came to age, Bhishma and Satyavati were looking for a suitable bride for him. At the same time, the king of Kashi organized a Swayamvara, a groom selection event, for his three daughters, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. He had invited all the eligible kings and princes from around his kingdom, but excluded Vichitravirya and Hastinapura due to an old grudge. This was considered an insult to Hastinapura.
Satyavati took this seriously and wanted Bhishma to go to Kashi to bring the princesses back to be wedded to Vichitravirya, as she thought they were the best fit for Vichitravirya. Bhishma argued against abducting the princesses during a Swayamvara, by using strength, even though it’s a common practice among big kingdoms. He finally agreed to do what Satyavati wanted, as he also considered the Kashi princesses to be good matches for Vichitravirya. Also, disobeying the Queen Mother was unacceptable for Bhishma, as he had vowed to protect Hastinapura as its servant.
On the day of the Swayamvara, Bhishma stormed into Kashi and challenged all the participants for a fight. At the end, he seized the three princesses. Some of the eligible kings and princes in attendance didn’t even think of crossing Bhishma’s path, nor did the king of Kashi. They knew the power and valor of Bhishma. Bhishma was so daunting, none of them or their armies could mount a challenge to him. The only king who stood against him was King Shalva. But he was defeated badly. Therefore Bhishma forcefully brought all three princesses to Hastinapura without any major issues.
In Hastinapura, Satyavati and Bhishma ordered the formal wedding ceremonies, to wed the princesses to Vichitravirya. While the second and third princesses, Ambika and Ambalika, were agreeable and cooperating, the eldest, Amba, was not. She had already accepted the proposal from King Shalva of the Saubala kingdom and was in love with him. Amba was furious with the way things turned out, as she was sure the King of the Saubala kingdom would have been her choice in the Swayamvara. She brought this up with Satyavati and Bhishma, requesting them to send her to King Shalva. Advised by Satyavati, Bhishma immediately accepted her request and sent her to the Saubala kingdom with all honors and respects.
While Amba was on her way to the Saubala kingdom, her sisters were married to king Vichitravirya in an exuberant way. The whole of Hastinapura was in celebration mode; the singing and dancing went on for days.
Amba reached the Saubala kingdom and announced that she was sent back by Satyavati and Bhishma to marry King Shalva. King Shalva rejected her saying that he no longer desired her, as she was to be wed to another man. He also said that she was rightfully won by Bhishma, who insulted him and the other kings and princes who were at the Swayamvara. Amba pleaded with Shalva, whom she considered as her true love, to accept her, but Shalva refused to accept her. Rejected and heart-broken Amba left the Saubala kingdom and went to the forest, not knowing what to do. She felt enraged and humiliated. She thought for some time, then headed towards Hastinapura .
Seeing Amba returning, Bhishma knew that the King Shalva had refused her hand. Seeing tragedy written all over Amba’s face, his eyes emitting sparks, Bhishma, took his bow and quiver, asking her to come with him to the Saubala kingdom so he could teach the King a lesson and make him honor his love. Amba refused, saying that she could not go to the coward lover and that she could not go through that type of humiliation all over again.
So Bhishma went to Vichitravirya, asking him to marry Amba. He too refused, saying he was not willing to marry her because she had someone else in her heart. Amba was getting angrier by the minute due to what she was going through. Bhishma then asked Amba to go back to her parents in the Kashi kingdom. Amba refused, saying she was abducted, a humiliation to her father, thus she was sure that he would not accept her back. Bhishma tried to persuade her otherwise, but it didn’t work.
Her anger towards Bhishma flared up, burning like wildfire in her heart, as she had concluded that Bhishma was the reason her life was in a mess. She turned to Bhishma and said, “You are the person who came to my Swayamvara, and brought me here, therefore it is you who needs to marry me!” Bhishma refused immediately, saying he cannot do so due to his Vow! Driven to extreme desperation, Amba flew into a rage. With her eyes raging fire, she Vowed, “Bhishma! You are the cause for this utter hopeless state of mine. I will not rest until I take revenge on you!”
Amba decided to do severe penance dedicated to Lord Kartikeya, seeking his help to avenge Bhishma. Lord Kartikeya, delighted with her devotion, appeared in front of her and gave her an ever-fresh flower garland. He said that whoever wears this garland would become the arch enemy of Bhishma and be the cause of Bhishma’s death.
Receiving the garland with satisfaction, Amba went to every single kingdom around, asking the kings to wear the garland to help her out. None of them were willing to do this, as they were too afraid to go against Bhishma. At last she went to the King of Panchala, Drupada, hoping he might agree, as he was not on good terms with Bhishma anyway. He too refused to wear the garland. Amba with a broken heart, frustrated, tired and exhausted, hung the garland on the palace door of King Drupada and went into the forest.
Amba marched into the forest and sought shelter that night with a group of ascetics along the riverbank. The next day, upon listening to Amba’s ordeal, the sages advised her to approach the great Parashurama, Bhishma’s Guru. Taking their advice Amba went to Parashurama at once. Amba conveyed her predicament to Parashurama and prayed to him for help. Parashurama gave his word to Amba that he would make Bhishma marry her or else would destroy him.
Parashurama went to the vicinity of Hastinapura and sent word to Bhishma to meet him. Parashurama tried to convince Bhishma to marry Amba, but Bhishma refused due to his vow. Parashurama called him out for a battle, but Bhishma said he would not battle his Guru. Parashurama said that if Bhishma refused the battle, it would be disobeying his Guru. Hearing this, Bhishma agreed to fight.
Thus, the battle between the teacher and the taught began. The battle was fierce, lasting for days without anyone emerging as the winner. With no way out, Bhishma took hold of the celestial weapon that Indra had bestowed on him, and Parashurama readied his great Parashu for the fight. Seeing this from far away, Mother Ganga prayed to Lord Shiva to stop the fight, as she knew that, if these weapons clash, it will lead to universal destruction. When both Parashurama and Bhishma used their weapons on each other, Lord Shiva appeared and absorbed both the weapons within him, answering Ganga’s prayers.
Seeing Lord Shiva, both Parashurama and Bhishma dropped everything and worshipped the Lord. Lord Shiva returned the weapons to each of them and told them to stop their fighting.
Watching this, Amba worshipped Lord Shiva and requested a resolution to her ordeal. Lord Shiva asked what she wanted. She replied that she wants to end Bhishma’s life. Lord Shiva granted her wish, saying that she will be the cause of Bhishma’s death, but it will only be possible in her next birth. Amba accepted the Lord’s words and walked away to end her life, so that she can be born again to fulfill her ambition of killing Bhishma. Bhishma assures Amba, that he will one day, when the time comes, make her wish come true. Her story will be followed in a later chapter. Bhishma fell on Parashurama’s feet, asking for forgiveness for taking up arms against him. Parashurama blessed his disciple and returned to continue his meditation.
I teach in a miracle factory. A miracle is “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency” (lexico.com). Do you believe in miracles? Nearly eighty percent of Americans do. Believing in miracles is not limited to a certain age group or restricted to certain religious denominations or affiliations, reported by Psychology Today. Yet it turns out only 38% Americans said they have had a miracle from God (faithgateway.com). I find that percentage to be too low, for I hear miracle stories from Svaroopa® Yoga teachers and students every day!
Before yoga, I was involved in outrigger canoe racing on the Pacific Ocean. During one race a big wave poured into our 400-pound boat. It became even heavier. We stroked harder and harder to keep moving forward. In my efforts, I injured my neck and shoulder. For years I went to various doctors and therapists to heal, but nothing freed me from the pain. My life became very limited. If I wasn’t at work, I was at home recovering on the couch. I could not do much more than that.
For nine long years, I took the maximum dose of Advil every day. At one point I said in desperation, “God! If you will just relieve my neck pain, I will not ask for anything more.” Well, after that I found Svaroopa® Yoga. I was relieved of my neck pain within a year and a half. So fast! It was a miracle. More miracles were to come.
Now I do not agree that miracles are “not explicable.” While science is unable to explain such miracles, yoga has a clear explanation. In yoga, miracles are reliable and predictable. Yoga taps into the source of healing, the inner source of miracles. Every time you do any of the Svaroopa® Yoga practices, you access the source of healing within you. The source is svaroopa — your own capital-S Self, your own inherent Divine Essence. Every time you have an experience of Self, you feel healed. This healing arises on all levels of your being simultaneously: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
In the beginning, you don’t realize all that is unfolding within you, from the inside out. You come into a yoga class with some physical, mental or emotional pain. Then a miracle happens. It heals! Yet, even though now you are healed, you keep coming back to do more yoga. Do you keep going to the doctor, if you are healed? No, but you come back to yoga. Now you are coming back for a whole different reason.
As wonderful as yoga’s healing benefits are, they are only the tip of the iceberg. The real miracle is greater. It is explained in the Shiva Sutras:
Vismayo yoga-bhumika.h —Shiva Sutras 1.12
Yogic realizations are truly amazing.
(translated by Swami Nirmalananda)
Your Svaroopa® yoga practices lead you on the inward journey that is the goal of yoga. This is the exploration of your own Self, your own Divine Essence. Wonders begin to unfold inside that are beyond what you could ever imagine. Look back to when you first started yoga. Now look where you are now. Could you have imagined what you have gotten so far? This is a miracle. You didn’t even know what to ask for. Yet you have received it: yourself being the Self that you are now.
The yogis agree with the dictionary in stating that a miracle is “the work of divine agency.” In yoga, by Grace, amazement after amazement unfolds within. The Shaktipat Guru is a dedicated agent of Grace, which is the Divine Energy of Revelation. It is the function of the Guru to reveal your own Self to you. The unfoldment, the amazement, begins in earnest when you receive Shaktipat. Shaktipat ignites your inner process of discovery. The miracles become more and more amazing as you deepen into your own Self, expanding into the infinity of your own being.
I teach in a miracle factory. It’s the biggest one I know, for I hear miracle stories from teachers and students every day! This miracle factory is powered not by electricity, but by Grace. Every day, these miracles are delivered all over the world. They are fast, predictable and reliable. Through the Svaroopa® Yoga practices, particularly meditation and mantra repetition, you will live in the amazing and ever-deepening discovery of your own Self, from the inside out.
Repetition is how you learn and develop skills. For example, when you’re teaching or giving a speech, repetition is necessary to get your point across. Only thirty-three percent of the group are hearing what you say at any given point in time. When you are listening to someone, there’s a sixty-six percent chance that you don’t hear what they say. Even if you hear it, you may not get its complete meaning. Thus, educators and effective communicators know to offer the same information in three different ways. Repetition is valuable.
As a Svaroopa® Yoga Teacher Trainer, I always give information about a pose five times. I demonstrate the pose, the students feel it in their bodies, do a partner-pairing process, then see it again and add personal notes to the information on their handout. When they return for more training, we review the same pose before adding more to it. Often they say, “The information is so much clearer this time.” Or, “You are presenting it more clearly.” They even think we’ve changed the handout because it is much easier to understand now. But the handout hasn’t changed. Neither have the Trainers’ presentation skills. Repetition is what made the difference.
The sage Patanjali explains how this works:
Tat-prati.sedhaartham eka tattvaabhyaasah
—Yoga Sutras 1.32
Focus on a single subject or technique to prevent the inner obstacles.
Repetition cultivates this one-pointed focus. It prevents the obstacles that keep your mind active and cause distractions. Simply pick an object of concentration and stay with it. You stay steady with what you have chosen. Of course, this focus makes your work in the world effective. Yoga says, however, that ultimately your goal as a human being is more than doing good work, avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure. The goal is to attain the knowing of your own Divine Essence. When you make this choice, mantra repetition keeps you staying steady with it. You use your mind for a spiritual purpose.
In Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation, you repeat an enlivened mantra which honors your own Self. By applying your mind to these sacred words, a pathway is cleared allowing you to experience the knowing of God, your own Self. By repeating mantra, you come to live in that deeper knowing of who you truly are all the time. Yoga has thousands of practices to attain this goal. Mantra repetition is the most powerful. So constantly repeat mantra to know God within you.
It is through your mind that you have the capacity and ability to repeat mantra. Sages, both ancient and contemporary, expound on the power of mantra repetition. Each time you repeat the mantra, you are imprinting your mind with Divine Consciousness. You are using your mind to its fullest capacity, opening inward to your own Divine Essence. Repeating mantra takes you to God. “When you repeat mantra,” says a great yogic sage, “the mind assumes the form of God.”
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati, my teacher, has passed this sacred mantra on to me and countless seekers through the teachings of the Svaroopa® Sciences. She received the mantra from her teacher, who received it from his teacher. The passing of the mantra from Guru to disciple extends back through thousands of years. The vibrations of the voices of these God-intoxicated beings infuse the mantra with Grace. Thus, these Gurus, sages and meditation masters have bestowed countless blessings on us.
Once you receive this mantra, let it fill your mind. You can even have multiple tracks of your 12-track mind repeating this mantra. Let it reverberate through your mind and into your whole being. Why? Because mantra holds Consciousness It-Self. Mantra fills your mind with Consciousness. Then more and more, that Light illumines your mind. Yes, repetition is valuable. Repeating mantra can bring you this Light, which is your own Self. Repeat more mantra!
You are great. Yes, you. Repeat out loud to yourself, “I am Great!” I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you. Put some breath into it, and don’t forget the exclamation point. Enthusiastically repeat out loud, “I am GREAT!”
It’s not the things you do, the people you know or the places you go that make you great. You’re great because you’re a human being. The yoga sages tell us that you are not merely great but greatness itself. You have greatness hidden within you right now. You already are greatness. You merely need to discover it. When you find your greatness, you find your you-ness.
You know this to be true. I can prove it to you. When you are not feeling great, you notice and do something about it. When your body hurts you slow down, get a massage or do some yoga poses. When you’re sad, you look for something to make you happy. You call a friend, read an uplifting book or repeat mantra. In contrast, when you’re feeling great you don’t say, “Hmmm… something isn’t right here. I should feel bad.” It’s natural for you to feel great in your body, mind and heart.
My teacher, Swami Nirmalananda, describes our inherent greatness this way:
You feel most like yourself when you are shining with light. When your eyes twinkle, when your heart overflows, when your words have a melody hidden in them, and when your actions show your generous and loving nature – you feel so natural. You feel like yourself.
You’ve had many of these experiences before. You were glowing on your graduation and/or wedding day. Your eyes twinkle when you look at someone you love. Your heart has overflowed with love for others many times. When you speak about something dear to you, your words flow like a smooth waltz. You have done so many good things for others out of the kindness of your heart. In these moments, you are living from your greatness. It’s a sneak peek of your future.
Before yoga, one of my favorite ways to get a sneak peek into my greatness was volunteering. I remember volunteering for my high school to serve a meal for the homeless. I showed up and poured myself into the tasks at hand. I put together cheese sandwiches with so much care and attention. My heart overflowed as I ensured that everyone was offered a hot beverage. I glowed as I helped with cleaning up. As I left that day, there was a joyful skip in my walk. While I was giving that day, I was the one who received the most. I got to experience my greatness.
Yoga’s guarantee of your greatness is not limited to certain events in your life. Yoga says you’ll glow everyday of your life. Your eyes will twinkle when you look at everyone. Your words will have a melody hidden in them even while reading a legal document. All your actions will show your generous and loving nature. You will be your greatness all the time and pour it into everything you do.
To discover your greatness, you must turn your attention inward to explore the depths of your being. With your first look inward, you’ll probably find your mind. You need to go deeper than your mind to find your you-ness. You discover the beingness that is being you. Yoga has many names for the you-ness, the greatness, that you are. One of them is Shiva, the Ultimate Reality being you, everyone and everything.
Now the question is: how do you get beyond your mind? Yoga uses your mind to get beyond your mind. It’s a nifty trick. You apply your mind to the repetition of a mantra. Specifically, an enlivened mantra passed down from a lineage of yoga masters. They repeated the mantra and discovered their own greatness. They’ve given us the mantra so that we can do the same. Now your job is first to receive the mantra from an authorized teacher, then to use it.
As you repeat more mantra, you will realize your inherent greatness. When you discover your greatness, you discover you. Being your greatness is so natural.