Author Archives: Swami Nirmalananda

Krishna Avatar & Mahabharata

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

The last of Lord Vishnu’s avatars that have already taken place are the eighth, Balarama (the powerful one) and the ninth, Krishna (the one with dark complexion).  His avatar that will come in the future is Kalki.

As Rama Avatar, Adhishesha incarnated as Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama.  He obeyed Rama and spent his entire life to serving him.  Lord Vishnu wanted to return the favor in His next incarnation: to honor Adhishesha’s devotion he made him be one of his Avatars while also making him his elder brother.  Therefore, Balarama Avatar was at the same time of the Krishna Avatar, Krishna being the younger brother of Balarama,

Krishna always obeyed Balarama; Balarama protected Krishna at all costs.  Unlike Krishna, Balarama was fair complexioned.  Otherwise they looked alike in many aspects.  Both these avatars of Lord Vishnu will be written in the same story, which is part of the great epic Mahabharata.

What is the Mahabharata?

The Mahabharata is the longest epic poem in the world.  It consists of numerous branches of stories, with hundreds of characters shaping the story line.  With over 100,000 slokas (a couplet), meaning 200,000 individual verse lines, and long prose passages, it has around 1.8 million total words.  It is about ten times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined, nearly four times the length of the Ramayana.

In the Indian tradition Mahabharata is sometimes called the fifth Veda, after the well-known four, Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.  In the Mahabharata, unlike Rama in the Ramayana, Krishna uses some of his divine powers to get things done, steering the way through the evil he is trying to overcome.

Through all of Lord Vishnu’s avatars, there is a progression in where good and evil reside.  In the first few avatars, they were far apart in different worlds. Then in Vamana and Parashurama Avatars, they came into the same world.  In Rama Avatar they came to the same area in the planet.  In Krishna Avatar. Good and evil came into the same family.

Now, we are in Kali Yuga, with good and evil residing in the same person.  The yugas (ages) have progressed, from Satya Yuga to Treta Yuga, to Dvapara Yuga and now to Kali Yuga.  In this cosmic timeline, the state of affairs has degraded from all good to mostly evil.  With this progression, who can predict what Lord Vishnu will have to do and what powers he will have to use in his final avatar, Kalki?

The Mahabharata is divided into 18 sections or books, with many sub-stories supporting the main story line.  The main story line revolves around two groups of cousins, the Kaurava and the Panḍava princes, and the war between them, the Kurukshetra War.

On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the Bhagavad Gita was given to the world by Krishna as a teaching to Arjuna, one of the Pandava cousins in the war.  The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most important texts of ancient India.  The Bhagavad Gita presents a synthesis of Hindu ideas about dharma, theistic bhakti and the yogic paths to liberation or self-realization.  It talks about four paths to spirituality: karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga and jnana yoga.

Known as the “Father of the India,” Mahatma Gandhi referred to the Bhagavad Gita as his “spiritual dictionary.”  He used it as a guide in leading the Liberation Movement of India, helping gain independence from the British without a war, through upholding ahimsa (non-harming).

While Krishna and Balarama are the third set of cousins in the Mahabharata, Krishna is the center of all the drama that takes place.  He directs everything to perfection, teaching humans about what evil can bring about in the world.  In contrast to Rama Avatar, where Lord Vishnu as Rama shows the world how a person should live, in Krishna Avatar he shows how people should not live.

Vyasa (often called Veda Vyasa) is the author of this great epic.  He is credited with classifying the Vedas, writing the eighteen Puranas, writing the Yoga Bhasya (a commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras), and composing the Mahabharata, among other things.

It is mentioned in the first section of The Mahabharata, that Lord Ganesha wrote down the text as Veda Vyasa dictated it.  As per the legend, Vyasa wanted to compose the Mahabharata.  For this he needed a very intelligent person to write it down.  So he prayed to Lord Brahma to help him find such a person.  Brahma said that the only one capable of handling such a task would be none other than Lord Ganesha.  Vyasa prayed to Lord Ganesha, requesting him to help.

With a smile, Lord Ganesha agreed to Vyasa’s request but under one condition.  Ganesha will not stop writing once he starts the work and, if at any point Vyasa lags, then Ganesha would stop writing and Vyasa would need to find someone else.  Vyasa agreed to the condition and made one of his own.  He requested that Lord Ganesha needs to understand each sloka before writing it down.  This bought Vyasa some time to in order compose the following sloka.

The writing of the Mahabharata began; Lord Ganesha was writing and Vyasa was dictating.  Halfway through, Lord Ganesha’s pen broke.  As he had given his word that he would not stop writing, he broke off one of his tusks in order to continue writing.  This is one of the many legends regarding Lord Ganesha’s one broken tusk.

Vyasa, son of Rishi Parasara, gave the Mahabharata to his son, Sukha Muni and his other disciples.  The sage Narada gave this knowledge to the devas, and Sukar gave it to the gandharvas, yakshas and the rakshasas.  Sage Vaisampayana gave this knowledge to the earthlings at a great yaj~na performed by Janamejaya, the great grandson of the Pandava prince Arjuna.  This knowledge was also shared by Suthar to all the rishis lived in the Naimisaranya forest.  This is how the Mahabharata reached our modern times.

We are concentrating on Krishna’s and Balarama’s life story, with the Mahabharata in the background.  In other words, if focused on the Mahabharata as the story, the start and progress of the story line would be different.  Yet the entire plot will be covered.

We will start with Krishna’s and Balarama’s birth, their growth, the Krishna leelas (mischiefs), their young age, Radha and Krishna, Kamsa’s (Krishna’s uncle’s) end, entering into adulthood, Balarama’s wedding and Krishna and Rukmini.  Then we will move on to the Pandava and Kaurava brothers’ ancestors, Pandavas’ and Kauravas’ birth, their growth, the conflict between these cousins, the dice game, Pandava brothers’ twelve years of exile and year incognito, the peace talks, the Bhagavadgita and Kurukshetra War.  Also we will covering Jaya and Vijaya’s liberation from their curse, due to their third human birth as Shishupala and Dantavakra, enemies of Krishna Avatar.

Balarama is usually depicted in blue garments, wearing bracelets and armlets.  His weapons are the plow (hala) and the mace (gadaa).  His hair is tied in a topknot, showing his strength, the reason for his name.

Krishna is often depicted wearing a peacock feather on his wreath/crown.  Playing the flute, he is usually shown standing with one leg bent in front of the other.  He is sometimes shown with cows or calves, which symbolizes the divine herdsman, herding the souls.

The story begins in the next installment.

Yoga & the Power of Grace

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

When you are becoming embodied in your own body, grounding and rooting into individuality (small-s self), you expand into your Self (capital-S Self).  People think grounding and rooting are limiting, but being spacey is what is limiting.  Being out of your body is completely limiting.

When you get present in your body, you get expanded when Guru’s Grace is part of the equation.  Without Grace, grounding into your self (small-s self) makes you feel small, lonely, needy, anxious and inadequate.  It’s Grace that turns the inward way into an expansive way.  In meditation, you invoke Grace when you repeat mantra and meditate on your own Self.  In poses, you invoke Grace when you lengthen your tailbone and open your spine.

This means that, as you become more embodied, you discover that Self (capital-S Self) is found in your own self (small-s self).  You come to know, “Oh, I am I!”  Most people think enlightenment is going to be, “Oh! I am something other than what I always was.”  In fact, the moment of recognition is, “I am I.”

Look at it from the other way around:  you won’t realize your Self (capital-S Self) by running away from your self (small-s self).  When you lengthen your tailbone, it is like lightning striking the earth from the sky, coming all the way down and grounding into being you.  This is the Self (capital-S Self) grounded in the self (small-s self).

Try explaining it to yourself it this way:

  • When I get present in my self (small-s self), I am
  • When I am present, I am
  • When I am aware, I am awareness — I am Self (capital-S Self).

Vidyadevi shares a recent meditation that showed her this.  “I was repeating mantra and easing back into my Self.  Then I felt a thin sheet of almost-liquid come down.  It was clearly Nityananda’s[1] presence.  At that point my awareness deepened even more.  I was behind my mind; I experienced bliss.  When my meditation period ended and I opened my eyes, I was still in bliss and behind my mind.  From a deeper place inside I was looking through my mind into the world.  I was still self (small-s self) but grounded in Self (capital-S Self).”

This means that Self (capital “S” Self) is found in self, revealed through Grace, as Nityananda did for her.  Yoga defines grace as one of the five Divine powers, specifically the power of revelation, meaning — Grace Reveals.  Svaroopa® yoga is the yoga of Grace.  Swami Nirmalananda explains, “It all comes from the initiation Nityananda gave to Muktananda, who gave it to me, and now I make that available to you. The blessing flows from one generation to the next, including straight to you.”  The lineage is like a riverbed, which concentrates the flow of water to make it accessible to all.  By doing any Svaroopa® yoga or Svaroopa® meditation practices, you step into the river, so you get wet.  You position yourself to get drenched with Grace.

The flow of Grace is concentrated in a person.  That’s the Guru, the one who carries it to the next generation.  A river without a riverbed is a flood; you need a riverbed to concentrate the water and make it safe and usable.  The Guru is the person who serves as the riverbed, so that the Grace can flow through.  Technically, it is the flow of Grace that is honored by the Sanskrit word “guru.”  The Guru is not a body make of flesh and blood.  The Guru is not a man or a woman.  The Guru is not an individual being or personality.  “Guru” is a function:  the bestowal of Grace.  That job is given to a person, who is acknowledged by the title denoting what they do, “Guru.”

Swami Nityananda (note 1) was asked by a member of the local legislature to define “Guru’s Grace” (guru-k.rpa).  He responded with the following questions: “Where is your hometown?  How long does it take to get there by road?  By sea? By rail?”  After the man replied, Nityananda asked how long it would take by air.  The legislator said that it would take less than 30 minutes.  “Guru’s Grace is like air travel,” Nityananda said, “providing the shortest and fastest way to the place of our origin — in the Infinite.”

How many lifetimes do you want to do, before you discover that the Self (capital-S Self) is found in your own self (small-s self)?  People go round and round in circles for lifetimes, focusing on distractions and mistaken goals.  Yoga’s ultimate goal is to give you your own Self.  Life’s ultimate goal is the discovery and ongoing experience of the bliss of your own Self, in your own self.

When you use Svaroopa® yoga to align your spine, you place yourself in that flow of Grace. Nirmalananda’s studies and dedication to Muktananda guarantees it. This is why Svaroopa® yoga works so quickly, deeply and profoundly — this is a path of Grace.  Get drenched and hop on the airplane!  Do More Yoga!

[1] Swami Nityananda was the Guru of Swami Nirmalananda’s Guru, Swami Muktananda

Infinity in a Body

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

In 1905, Einstein shifted science’s paradigm in his article declaring matter is made of energy, summarized in his famous formula, E=MC2.  This includes everything that appears solid: your body, your yoga blankets, every rock and every springtime daffodil.  They are all made of concentrated energy.  This is now well known and accepted.

The physicists find words to describe their discoveries by quoting the ancient sages of India.

Every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction….without end…

For the modern physicists, then Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomenon.  — Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics

Physicists dedicate themselves to an outer exploration of this universe, down to the atoms and subatomic particles, yet they are finding common ground with poets and yogis, whose own exploration is an inner one.  Our yogic tradition, Kashmiri Shaivism, explains how it is that the scientists, poets and yogis can arrive at the same place:

citi samkocaatmaa cetano’pi sa.mkucita vi”sva-maya.h

— Pratyabhijnahrdayam 4

Consciousness willingly takes on contraction, in order to become both the universe and the individuals, who have the universe as their bodies in a contracted form.

Consciousness (another name for Shiva) is choosing to manifest into form; the formless blissfully dancing into form.  Shiva is concentrating the energy of His own Being into matter, outside and inside, being a grain of sand, being a wildflower and being you. 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.

As a human being you have the unique ability to know the whole of Consciousness.  In a Shaktipat (initiation) tradition like ours, these inner experiences open up so easily, which is the point of all the Svaroopa® sciences.

When you start at your tailbone, to release your spinal tensions, you also begin the inner opening that leads to spontaneous Shaktipat.  When you attend a Shaktipat Retreat, you receive intentional Shaktipat, an initiation that opens up the Infinity of your own Divinity.

Or you can simply lie down in Shavasana and listen to Swamiji’s Guided Awareness CD.  Or sit to do japa and meditate.  Turn your attention inward, so you find and know that you are infinity in a body; you are the formless in a form.  Do more yoga.

Originally published April 2014

Finding Infinity in Your Body

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Rukmini Abbruzzi

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

— William Blake, “Augeries of Innocence,” 1807

William Blake’s ecstatic poem is widely quoted because it speaks to a truth that you know deep inside but usually forget. Consider for a moment, if the world is in a grain of sand, what is in you?  Yoga says you are the whole of infinity in an individualized form, and promises that you can know this by exploring within.

It’s easy to feel like your body is just a body: skin encasing muscles, organs and bones.  You wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and, instead of seeing infinity in your eyes, you see bed-head and teeth that need brushing.  Perceiving your body in this mundane, material way is normal.  It’s a scientific perspective.

It stems from the Renaissance, when Western science began developing logical analysis and systemic observations of the human body and the world. Previously the body was thought to be something that housed the spirit.  It changed in the 16th century, when scientists studied cadavers to understand the human body and learn its secrets, while considering the body to be material — nothing spiritual at all.

Now scientists study living bodies, using x-rays and other types of imaging, but they still consider it to be merely material.  There is a lot more to be found by studying a living body than a dead one, so science has developed incredible and valuable understandings of your body. Yet exploring your physical body is still a limited exploration.

Yoga honors your body as a divine body, while offering you tools and opportunities to cultivate a deeper knowing.  Yoga makes it easy for you to dive inside and find that you are more than you ever dreamed of, that your self is THE Self, the whole of Consciousness.

The Guided Awareness that begins and ends your Svaroopa®  yoga class is one of yoga’s tools.  Resting in Shavasana, a pose recognized as the most important of all the physical practices, you are guided to bring your awareness to each area of your body in turn, “outside and inside.” It can seem like ‘’inside” is an instruction to explore the inner physical reality of your body. Another Teacher Training student in one of Rukmini’s trainings described that she “went ‘inside’ during a long Shavasana, and found herself like Jacques Cousteau, whizzing through her circulatory system, as tiny as a blood cell, on a grand adventure in her body.”

Swamiji had a student in his sixties who enjoyed the opening and closing Shavasanas in every weekly class, but he didn’t talk much.  One day, she talked about “outside and inside” being more, that “inside” is not just bones and muscles.   He shared that he’d thought he was supposed to be developing his ability to see inside his body, to see his muscles and organs and bones, like he would have x-ray vision.

While yogis do develop an awareness of their body that other people don’t have, the Guided Awareness is about much more.  It is about the deeper dimensions of your being.  When you go “inside,” you’re not just going into skin, muscles and bones; you can keep going, into the energy they’re made of.  This energy is conscious.  In fact it is consciousness, which is swirling as energy in order to manifest as you.  When you track it to its source, you discover the One Infinite Reality that is its own source, which yoga names as Shiva. You just have to look a little deeper.

Originally published April 2014

Embodied Awareness

by Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

“At the end of a class, I had the students roll to their sides after their final Shavasana,” says Vidyadevi.  “One man didn’t move.  I looked over at him.  Honestly, he looked dead.  His skin was pale and I couldn’t see his breath moving.  I got up, came over and squeezed his foot several times before he opened his eyes.  For some reason I asked, ‘Where were you?’  He said, ‘Oh, I was at the beach.’”  I said, ‘You need to get into your body!’”

Unfortunately, most people float around outside their body most of the time.  They are a little above and a little in front of their body, which looks half dead — pale, dry and shriveled up.  No wonder zombie movies are so popular!

Svaroopa® yoga classes start with the Guided Awareness in Shavasana.  For the first few weeks or months, you track with the words all the way up to your knees or hips, then you lose the outer sounds, including your teacher’s words.  Have you yet gotten to the point where you can follow the whole Guided Awareness yet?  Being aware of each area of your body that is named, being aware through each of your body parts in turn, and being aware of your whole body all at the same time?  It’s an amazing experience!

As you continue to practice Shavasana and the Guided Awareness, your ability to be embodied increases.  This means that Shavasana is very important. As your ability to hear every word improves, you’re hearing the words without working at it. This is because the Guided Awareness is an “awareness practice,” not a body oriented practice.

Awareness is one of the technical terms of yoga, describing the true nature of your own being.  You have the inherent capacity to be aware without thought, without efforting, and without the doingness associated with your usual mode of perception. In the beginning of your yoga studies, you go unconscious at such profound inner depths, but your Shavasana practice makes you able to be very deep within yourself, yet aware while you are in there. It is not yet the fully empowered awareness that is your own Divine Essence, but it is the beginning of your inner discovery.

This happens because you are already Divine.  The innermost dimensions of your own existence are Consciousness-Itself, as clearly described in one of the Kashmiri Shaivite texts:

Chiti sa.mkochaatmaa chetano’pi sa.mkuchita vi”svamaya.h

– Pratyabhij~nah.rdayam Sutra 4

Consciousness-Itself assumes contraction to become both the universe and the individuals…

This sutra begins with “Chiti,” meaning “Consciousness-Itself,” naming the Reality which contracts to become the whole universe, and specifically points out that Consciousness becomes you. This means that you are pure consciousness, contracted into an individualized form. Consciousness doesn’t lose anything in the process; Consciousness is not diminished in any way.

Swami Nirmalananda uses a metaphor to make it clear:  do you remember running a foot race with a child, and letting them win the race?  Vidyadevi’s nephew wanted to run a foot race around the block to see who could run faster. They ran neck-and-neck all the way, yet at the very end, she let him win.  Did this mean that she was never going to have the capacity to run fast again? No.  It can even be fun to pretend to be small, but you don’t lose your greatness in the process.  Neither does Chiti.

The paradox is that Consciousness is grounding and rooting at the same time that Consciousness is expanding.  By grounding and rooting into self (small-s self), Consciousness is grounding into individuality; yet Consciousness is expanding into multiplicity at the same time.  It’s cosmic; it’s huge.  It is also totally personal.

Originally published Oct 2013

Sanskrit — The Language of Yoga

By Sadguru Nirmalananda Saraswati

The oldest known language, Sanskrit is called the language of the gods.  It even has a verb conjugation you use only when speaking to God.  “Devanagari” is the name of the alphabet, like Cyrillic is the name of the script used for the Russian language.  Deva (देव) means god, while naga (नाग) means snake, referring to the coiled energy that brings the universe into existence.  Of course, it also names the coiled Kundalini, which certain Sanskrit mantras are designed to activate or awaken.

Svaroopa® yoga teachers often say your pose names in Sanskrit as well as English.  The English name helps you learn how to do the pose, but the Sanskrit name helps you go farther into it.  It’s easy to try.  Stand up and lean your torso forward, bending at your hips for a simple Uttanasana, letting your arms hang toward the floor.   Repeat “Standing Forward Bend” for 45 seconds.  Stay in the pose and say “Uttanasana” (oot-awn-AAW-saw-naw) for 45 seconds.  See what happens.  You’ll prove how powerful Sanskrit really is.

The shape of each Sanskrit letter maps the way its sound reverberates in your head, awakening the thousand-petaled lotus at the top.  Learning to use your mouth, tongue and breath to enunciate the words properly is a lesson in ecstasy.  I’ve been chanting in Sanskrit for over 40 years and know how Grace-filled this yoga practice is.  I got it from one who knows, the great yogi who gave me everything, and who empowered me to give it all to you.  Yoga is so much more than poses!

Baba always emphasized chanting in Sanskrit rather than learning the language.  Of course, I’ve picked up technical terminology along the way, just like you learn important words in other languages (i.e. burrito and lasagna).  My little joke has truth in it, for the important Sanskrit terms are about you being fed on a spiritual level (i.e. shaktipat and darshan).

Many words have no direct translation into English, like svaroopa and ahamkara.  Self is the word used to translate them both, distinguished by a “capital-S” or a “small-s” to clarify which level of personhood is being described.  But that doesn’t work well when speaking, or even at the beginning of a sentence.

Svaroopa is your “true form,” meaning your inherent Divinity.  Your body and mind are merely the outer levels of the multiple dimensions of your being.  The science of yoga gives you tools to explore the depths and vastness within.  Svaroopa® yoga specializes in this, from a powerfully different way of doing the poses to an easy and deep meditation technology.

Ahamkara means “I am what I do.”  It is how you construct a superficial sense of self, constantly judging yourself compared to others, hopefully feeling self-respect and a sense of self-worth.  It is an activity of your mind, which keeps your mind very very busy.

When you know your own svaroopa, you still do things in the world, but you’re not looking for them to give you a sense of self.  It’s like going to an ATM.  When you want your relationships and actions to build up your ahamkara (small-s self), you’re trying to withdraw money from the machine.  When you base your sense of self in svaroopa (capital-S Self), you’re making a deposit.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

To your Inherent Divinity, again and again I bow.

Rama Avatar, Part 10

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Sita is living in Valmiki’s forest Ashram while Lord Rama, her husband, is performing the Ashvamedha yaj~na to benefit his kingdom and all the people in it.

The yajna horse wandered around the land unchallenged, ending up near Valmiki’s ashram on its way back to Ayodhya.  Lava and Kusha found out about Rama’s horse from their friends, so they caught the horse and tied it to a tree nearby, specifically so their mother would not know about it.  Lava stayed to guard the horse with a few friends while Kusha went to get the flowers for his mother’s puja.

Shatrugna and his army followed the horse, arriving at the Ashram.  The guards at the front of the group were surprised to see the horse held captive by acetic children.  They thought the kids were playing a joke, advised them not to interfere in royal business and went towards the horse to untie it.  An arrow from Lava’s bow landed right in front of the guard’s feet.  The guards fought back, but were defeated in a minute.  They ran to Shatrugna.

Shatrugna came over and found Lava and his friends.  Shatrugna  was amazed that an ascetic child defeated the guards.  Thinking the guards had been fooled, Shatrugna politely asked the children to release the horse.  However, they were very serious about the matter and refused to do so.  Not knowing the powers they had received from their Guru Valmiki, Shatrugna challenged them to a battle for the horse.  He and the rest of the Ayodhya army were defeated instantly by Lava.

The news about Shatrugna’s defeat reached the palace, as well as the fact that Shatrugna, the army and the horse were in captivity.  Lakshmana rounded up the rest of their troops and went there.  He also found these lovely little boys, Lava leading them, and thought that Shatrugna must have made some mistake to end up in the fate he was.

Thinking that these were just ascetic children, not knowing how Valmiki trained them for battle, Lakshmana started talking to them, asking them to release the horse and his brother Shatrugna.

When Lava realized it was Lakshmana speaking, he condemned Lakshmana for leaving a pregnant woman (Sita) in the forest without any help.  As usual, everyone knows Lakshmana is very short tempered.  Thus, the peace talks didn’t last long.  The battle between Lava and Lakshmana began.  Lava fought bravely and bound all the troops Lakshmana brought.

Unable to withstand Lava’s skill, Lakshmana used his “Nagastra” (arrow of the cobra) to tie him up.  Lakshmana carried Lava to the chariot, preparing to liberate the horse, Shatrugna and the army.  The other children escaped, taking the news to Kusha, who was just returning from gathering flowers for Sita.  Kusha immediately jumped in front of Lakshmana. stopping him from liberating the horse.  He demanded that Lakshmana free Lava.

Lakshmana advised Kusha not to make the same mistake his brother had made by confronting him.  Kusha invited him to a battle to settle the matter.  The fight was intense.  It was a desperate situation, needing to free his brother, so Kusha used one of the special arrows given by his Guru Valmiki, by which he was able to defeat Lakshmana.  Then Kusha unbound Lava and imprisoned Lakshmana.  Then the twins sent one of warriors to inform Rama what had transpired.

The messenger came to Rama with the news.  Rama was astonished that two ascetic children had defeated the mighty Ramarajya troops, and especially his brothers.  He decided to go in person.  As usual, accompanied by Hanuman, Rama arrived and found the two ascetic children were those who sang the Ramayana at the palace.  Like his brothers, Rama tried to make peace by talking to them.  They were not ready to listen, decisively refusing to release the horse.  They called Rama out for a battle, saying he had no right to do the yaj~na without his wife Sita.

Watching all this, Hanuman took on his gargantuan form, saying they would have to go through him first to get to Rama.  Knowing it is impossible to win a battle with Hanuman, Lava and Kusha said that it would be very easy and whispered to their friends to start the repetition of “Sri Rama.”  All the other children started dancing and singing “Sri Rama.”  In an instant, Hanuman came back to his normal form and started dancing and singing with the children.  The children slowly moved towards the Ashram, Hanuman following them, dancing and chanting.  Rama was amazed to see this happen, realizing the children were no simple matter.  Yet he had no other option, so he resolved to fight with them.  The fight began, Rama battling Lava and Kusha.

The children and Hanuman reached the ashram.  Mesmerized, Hanuman came back to his senses, finding himself in Valmiki’s Ashram.  Hearing the chanting of Mata Lalitha Devi’s mantra by a very familiar voice, he jumped up in joy, recognizing it as Sita’s.  He ran into the puja, fell down at Sita’s feet, and shouted, “I found Sita Devi again, I found Sita Devi again…”

All the ascetics, who had been with Sita all these years, we astonished.  Everyone fell at Sita’s feet.  Suddenly Hanuman realized this was the area where he left Sita years ago, when the young sages found her.  Putting everything together, it occurred to him that the twin children must be none other than Sita’s.

Hanuman trembled, thinking of the fight that was happening between father and sons.  He explained what had happened in the past few days, between Rama’s yaj~na horse and the twins.  He also told her about the battles that had taken place and the one now taking place.  Sita was in the middle of a puja that should be uninterrupted, but realized the gravity of the situation.  Even though the other ascetics tried to stop her, she ran out, asking Mata Lalitha Devi for forgiveness for the interruption in the puja.

Sita and Hanuman came to the battleground, seeing that Rama, as a last resort, had taken the “Ramaastra” in his hand to shoot it towards the twins.  Sita shouted, “Stop!”  Hearing the voice of Sita, Rama dropped his bow and arrow, looking at her and saying, “That is my Sita’s voice…”

Sita grabbed both Lava and Kusha, sobbing, “How could you take up arms against your father?  It is all my fault!”  Lava and Kusha were stunned by their mother’s words, and quietly asked, “Are you Rama’s Sita Devi?”  Sita nodded her head and hugged them both.

When she released them, Lava and Kusha fell on Rama’s feet, “Forgive us father!  We have committed a crime by taking up arms against you, not knowing that you are our father.  Please forgive us!”  Rama said, “The crime was mine, banishing my beloved Sita from Ayodhya and being separated from her all this while, missing my children’s youth years.”  He hugged both Lava and Kusha.  Looking at the father and sons united, Sita was so happy.  Rama asked Sita to come to Ayodhya with him.

Refusing, she said she cannot come to Ayodhya again.  Bidding farewell, she called upon her mother, Mother Earth, to take her into her arms if Sita is pure in her heart and has not lost her chastity.  As soon as she uttered those words, the earth split open.  Up came Mother Earth, took Sita in her arms and disappeared into the split earth.  Unable to do anything to stop Sita, Rama, the twins and Hanuman cried their eyes out.

Everyone returned to Ayodhya with a very heavy heart.  Rama conducted the Ashvamedha Yaj~na with Sita’s statue at his side, as planned.  Lava and Kusha helped their father with the yaj~na.  Slowly, by the Ashvamedha Yaj~na effects, Ayodhya started flourishing again.  Now that the kingdom was getting back to its glory days, Rama started thinking about giving the kingdom’s rule to the children, both his and his brothers’.

One day while he was thinking about his plan, a guard announced that a sage was waiting to see him.  Immediately, Rama ordered the guard to show him in.  The sage came in and Rama offered him a seat.  The sage said, with a little hesitation, you need to know who I am before you offer me a seat.  Rama replied that whoever who visits, even if it is a foe, the first order of business is to extend hospitality.

After the greetings, the sage said that Lord Brahma sent him, and that they need to have a private meeting, with no one disturbing them.  Immediately, Rama called upon Lakshmana to make sure no one disturbed them, to guard the door at all cost.  As usual, taking Rama’s command, Lakshmana stood guard at the door.

Inside, the sage revealed his true identity as Yama-Dharma-Raja, the God of Dharma in charge of ending lives (God of Death).  He continued that he had been instructed by Brahma to give prior notice to avatars such as Rama about their return time approaching.  He also pointed out that Shri Lakshmi Devi, who was with Rama as Sita in this world, had already returned to Vaikuntha, and that Rama needed to send Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrugna before his own return.

Outside, Lakshmana was guarding.  The great sage Durvasa, son of Atiri, arrived, wanting to meet Rama to discuss an urgent matter.  Lakshmana tried his best to calm him and have him wait, but Durvasa became very agitated.  Knowing Durvasa to be both short tempered and powerful, Lakshmana knocked on the door hesitantly.  He knew he was disobeying Rama’s order for the first time ever, but it was to evade sage Durvasa’s curse that would destroy Rama’s whole lineage.

The discussion between Rama and Yama-Dharma-Raja was coming to an end.  Knowing that Lakshmana would not knock without a pressing need, Rama opened the door.  Meanwhile Yama-Dharma-Raja again disguised himself as the sage who had entered earlier.

Lakshmana explained the reason he disturbed them, due to the visit of sage Durvasa.  Thanking the sage (Yama-Dharma-Raja), Rama extended his hospitality to sage Durvasa.  After sage Durvasa left, Rama sat down to consider how he could free himself from the Ayodhya kingdom.  Sita had already gone.  He didn’t need any other reason to complete his mission as avatar.

Rama came up with a plan to divide the country and give it to all 8 children, his and his brothers’, before leaving the earth.  Rama called Lakshmana in and revealed the visit by Yama-Dharma-Raja.  He explained that Lakshmana must go Vaikuntha before himself.  Lakshmana jumped up, saying that the one thing guaranteed is that all who are born in this world have an exit day.  He said that he hoped he wouldn’t have to wait long in Vaikuntha for Rama to arrive.

As Rama’s plan was being set in motion, the world around seemed to react.  Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra died one after the other, in very short intervals.  All four brothers felt sad and starting talking about mothers.  Lakshmana said he needed to clear the air, since people talked ill about Kaikeyi’s actions in the past.  He said, “Our mother Kaikeyi’s actions, in sending our brother Rama to the forest, was to keep her husband Dasaratha’s promise to her own father Ashwapati.  Ashwapati’s grandson must be the heir to the throne.  Everyone has misunderstood her actions erroneously.”

Rama was happy that this fact, which he already knew, had been brought to light by Lakshmana for the world to know.  After this, Lakshmana said his goodbyes to everyone.  He went to the Sarayu River, dipped himself in the water and saw Indra come in his flying chariot to take him to Vaikuntha.  Rama was devastated that Lakshmana was not with him anymore.

Dividing the country up and naming the rulers for each portion happened very quickly after.  The news about Lakshmana’s departure and Rama’s planned departure spread like wildfire.  The citizens of Ayodhya were there with Hanuman, who obviously never released Rama from his sight.  Rama says that he will not take Hanuman with him.  Instead Rama commanded Hanuman to be on earth as a chiranjivi (immortal), continuing to repeat Rama’s name.  With tears in his eyes, the never disobeying Hanuman accepted Rama’s command, looking at Rama dipping in the Sarayu River to go to Vaikuntha.  The children and Hanuman remained with a very heavy heart.

Sarayu River – Ayodhya (today)

It is said that Hanuman lives on this earth eternally.  He will be at any and every place where the name “Rama” is spoken, even only once.  If you are in trouble, all you need do is call out Rama’s name once and Hanuman will be there to take care of you.  Jay Shri Ram!

Om Namah Shivaya

All at the Same Time

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

There are so many wonderful strategies for managing money, successful relationships, improving your health, etc.  You do these things to attain happiness by improving your life.  Yoga also improves your life and makes you happy, though yoga’s true goal is spiritual upliftment.  The ancient teachings speed you toward attaining the ultimate — the knowing of your own inherent Divinity.  Yoga calls this your “Self.”

A powerful yogic strategy is outlined in the “eight limbs” of yoga.  These important practices and how they move you toward your Self.

Yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana
dhyana samadhayo’stav angani — Yoga Sutras 2.29

This is a “list sutra,” meaning it lists the practices, while explaining more fully them in later sutras.

  1. Yama: restraints, including:
    Ahimsa — non-harming                    Brahmacharya — celibacy
    Satya — non-lying                              Aparigraha — non-greed
    Asteya — non-stealing
  2. Niyama: observances, including:
    Shauca — purity, purification           Svadhyaya — study of the texts on the Self
    Samtosha — contentment                Ishvara-pranidhana — surrender to God
    Tapas —  doing the hard stuff
  3. Asana: body positions, postures
  4. Pranayama: working with your breath and the pauses between your breaths
  5. Pratyahara: turning your attention inward
  6. Dharana: focusing inward, contemplation
  7. Dhyana: meditation
  8. Samadhi: inner absorption

In Sanskrit, these eight limbs are called “ashtanga” (ashta means eight; anga means aspect, angle or limb).  A modern yoga style is called Ashtanga Yoga because the founder, Pattabhi Jois, describes all eight limbs happening during their aerobic sequences.  Patanjali’s description is from 2,000 or more years ago, and emphasizes the seated pose, specifically so you can comfortably sit still, for long and delicious meditations.

Anga does not mean hierarchical levels or rungs on a ladder.  You don’t have to do the limbs in order.  It’s more like a climbing tree:  you can skip some limbs and still climb to the top.  Thus, many Westerners begin with the third limb, yoga poses, or with the seventh limb, meditation.

Fortunately, when you skip limbs, like with yogis who begin at asana (poses), the limbs you skipped happen to you automatically.  You may not understand what’s happening because you didn’t get the teachings about the earlier practices.  It can be surprising when, after starting yoga classes, you find you’re becoming a vegetarian (ahimsa – non-harming).  Or you realize that you’ve lost interest in shopping (aparigraha — non-greediness).  You may discover the bliss of chanting (ishvara-pranidhana) and begin studying yoga texts (svadhyaya).  Yoga is happening to you!

Vidyadevi reports, “A regular yoga therapy client complained that she didn’t like drinking alcohol anymore because she didn’t feel good the next day.  Shaucha (purity) was happening for her.  She wasn’t too happy about it.”

These are signs of spiritual progress.  Yoga is cultivating an inner alignment with your own Divine Self by basically “cleaning up your act”  This means “your act” has been getting in your way of your spiritual upliftment.  No matter the limb in which you start this process, you get the whole process.  It’s like walking into a room.  No matter which doorway you enter through, you still get the whole room.

Originally published January 2018

Body, Mind & Beyond Both

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

You may think yoga is about your body while meditation is about your mind.  Both are partial truths, but partial truths are the worst kind.  What you want is the “capital-T Truth,” the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, “so help you God.”  Yoga says you will need God’s help to find God.  Yoga and meditation are both about finding the right place to look.  And using the right tools.

In order to meditate, you need to be able to sit.  Thus, you’ll probably need some yoga poses to help you with your body.  Yoga’s ultimate pose is the seated pose.  It’s specific to getting enlightened.  You need to sit in order to delve into your own existence.

Our tradition is a Shaktipat tradition, one that uses the power of God’s Grace to reveal God’s presence, within you, being you.  Once you’ve received the Great Awakening (maha-shaktipat diksha), you must meditate in order to give Kundalini (the meditative energy) time to climb your spine.  This opens into the exploration of the inner realms of your own being, all the way to your inner Divinity.  Every time.  So easy.  So deep.

Let’s say you were able to procure a seat on one of the rocket ships going into outer space.  you’ve trained for this scientific mission to explore the farthest reaches of deep space. You’ve prepared your body for the rigors of deep space travel.  Even now, you can easily find online workout plans to train like an astronaut, moving your body into different angles to stretch and strengthen.  On the launch pad, after all your preparation, you are sitting in the rocket for lift-off.  The rocket, powered by potent liquid propellants, will shoot straight up into the heavens.

Your asana practice works like this.  Your preliminary yoga poses prepare you for your trip inward, and then you sit for “lift-in.”  The energy that climbs your spine, Kundalini, is the rocket fuel.  This energy takes you up toward the inner sky, the cosmic reality of your own inherent Divinity.

This energy does not move horizontally along the floor.  This means you must get up from Shavasana and sit.  You are propelled inward very quickly and deeply as you sit and repeat the mantra of this tradition, available from Swami Nirmalananda online.  You are now an explorer in the inner realms of your own being, discovering your own essence, the source of the universe.

This is why Svaroopa® yoga teachers emphasize the seated poses.  Our first Teacher Training immersion, Foundations, begins with seated poses.  We return to them many times in the two or more years of further training.  Our final module focuses again on the seated poses, precisely because they are the most important poses.  In this spiritual process of interiorization, the seated pose is the gateway to the progressively more powerful practices in the eight limbs.

Sthira-sukham-aasanam — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.46

Asana is the seated pose, easy and upright [as the beginning point of meditation].[1]

How do you get to the point that you are able to sit? Just as Patanjali recommends, you work on your mind and lifestyle, and then cultivate your body’s ability to sit in easy, upright stillness.  While the sutra defines what an asana is, the poses are not the point of the sutra.  Funny, isn’t it?  Poses are not the point of yoga practice.  Sitting is the point.

Swami Nirmalananda says, “Simply sitting still quiets your mind.  Patanjali explains this in his following sutras, describing how your breath smooths out and suspends into timelessness.  It even happens when you watch the ocean or the night sky.  Yet the inner awakening of Shaktipat offers more, a whole level of inner experience that Patanjali does not describe.  For this, you have to study with a Shaktipat Master, as I did.”

Once you’ve received Shaktipat from such a Master, you have the experience that those yogis in the high Himalayas sought, the inner knowing of your own Divinity.  Svaroopa® yoga is the Yoga of Grace, which is the revelation of your own Divinity.  This is the gift given by such great beings.  Not only mantra, but our core opening poses can invoke your inner awakening.  To cooperate with it, after your yoga practice, sit.  Settle into your easy upright seated position as a way to soften into the deeper dimensions of your own Being.  Your Self is not so far away.  Just sit.

Previously published May 2018

[1] Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda

The Ultimate Pose

By Swami Nirmalananda & Vidyadevi Stillman

Yoga’s asanas (poses) did not come from a bunch of yogis playing charades in the forest.  “Ooo!  Ooo!  I know!  It’s a frog!  No, a rabbit!”  “Bingo!  You’re right!”  “Wow, this feels really good.  My back feels better, my breath more open, even my mind is calmer.  Hey guys, let’s put this on the list.” There are some yogis writing that the forest sages made up the poses, having their disciples stand like a tree, pose like a tortoise or move like a cat, but the origin of these sacred body positions was not conjured up by anyone’s mind.

The sages in the Himalayas were living and practicing far from mainstream spirituality of the time, both Classical Yoga as well as Hinduism.  Studying with the tantrics meant the new yogi began by receiving a transmission of energy from the Guru, an initiation called Shaktipat.  Shaktipat awakens your inner power of upliftment, the sacred energy called Kundalini.

As this energy flowed up their spine from tail to top, different yogis had different experiences depending on their individual nature and readiness.  Those who were more kinesthetic, rather than visual or auditory, experienced physical movements.  Other yogis copied their spontaneous movements, which are today’s yoga poses.

Vidyadevi says, “After I received Shaktipat, during meditation my body would move spontaneously into Fish Pose, with my chest lifting and my head leaning way back.  Over time, this movement completely cleared up chronic neck and sore throat problems.   Through the years, Kundalini has moved me into other poses as well, as gunk was cleared out of my spine.   Some of the positions were painful, though beneficial, while others were pure ecstasy, with bliss pouring up my spine.  I can see why ancient yogis copied others’ spontaneous movements to get what I got.  But what I got was much more than mere improvements in my body and mind.  I got my Self.”

Doing the moves in the photos and videos, too many yogis are pushing or forcing their body into the poses, without realizing they’re tightening their spine in order to get the same look.  When Kundalini moves you, the asanas are effortless and profoundly opening.  In Svaroopa® yoga we don’t copy “the look.”  Instead we use the asanas to give you the openings Kundalini would provide by moving you into spontaneous poses.  You get the results, amazingly deep and amazingly easy.

Many have already gotten Kundalini awakening through our core opening practice, but whether your Kundalini is awakened or not, your asanas are tremendously beneficial.   It’s incredible how they improve your physical condition along with your mind and emotions.  Yet, these are side effects, not the real reason for the poses.  Ultimately, your spinal decompression prepares you for the true meaning of  “asana,” to be able to relax into an easy, upright seated pose.

Sthira-sukham-aasanam — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.46

Asana is the seated pose, easy and upright.

This sutra is a “definition sutra,” meaning it defines the third of eight pivotal practices known as the “eight limbs.”  The first two limbs, yama and niyama, are lifestyle practices.  They are about how you handle the world and how you handle yourself in the world.  Asana is the third limb, in which you begin working on your body.

Just like in English, Sanskrit words change meaning over time — except for “aasana.” It is one of the rare Sanskrit words that has remained the same for 10-15,000 years.  It means “to sit,” as in “the disciples sat close to their Guru while He gave the teachings.”

What does the Sanskrit dictionary say?  It begins with “sitting, sitting down,” and expands the meaning to “seat, place, stopping, dwelling, encamping, abiding.”  It clearly doesn’t mean “to move fast, to jump around, or to hang from a trapeze,” as so many Westernized yoga trends offer.

Yoga’s eight limbs take you through a process of interiorization.  Your lifestyle practices have calmed your mind and emotions, so next you work with your body.  Asana is not about the external world.  You leave your day behind to do your yoga class or home practice.  You may think it’s for your health or for peace of mind, but it’s all for the purpose of learning how to sit.  The seated pose is the single most important pose of all!