Your mind specializes in repetitive thoughts focusing on negatives, worries and fears. Most of your thoughts are not new, innovative, creative, inspiring and uplifting. In fact, ninety to ninety-five percent of them are reruns! If that were happening on your TV, you would turn it off. Why don’t you do that with your mind? Oh, because you can’t! Your mind is like the Energizer Bunny. It just keeps going and going and going.
The quality of what you are thinking completely imbues your mind. That becomes who you are. If you are feeling angry you say, “I am angry.” Not that you feel angry — but “I am angry. This is who I am.” This is called bondage. Your mind keeps you bound in a limited sense of self. You share this with others. “Hello, I am angry. Who are you? Oh, you’re sad. Hello, sad.”
Even creative thoughts keep you bound. The mind can create uplifting and beautiful things, including fine art, great music, stunning landscapes. The problem is that you follow your mind wherever it goes. You never look deeper within to the One who has a mind. So your experience is “I am my mind,” which is very limited, even when it’s creative. You have a mind, but you are not your mind. You are so much more.
You are vast, all encompassing, the One Reality in all that exists. You are Absolute Ever-Existent Beingness. To experience and to know this greater reality, you must transform your mind. Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras describes:
Tadaa hi viveka-nimnam kaivalya-praagbhaaram chittam.
— Yoga Sutra 4.26
Then the yogi’s mind is inclined towards discerning [the difference between mind and Self] and is heading toward liberation.
When you understand the difference between your mind and your Self, you are headed toward liberation. In meditation, I had the experience of the vastness of my being. I saw my mind as an orb, an object. I wondered, who is aware of my mind? Contemplating this question, I realized the “who” was my Own Self — the deepest dimension of my being. I realized that I have my mind and I am much much greater than my mind.
My mind can still ruminate over my likes and dislikes. It can get caught up in these thoughts. Yet I am now more aware when I am entangled in my mind. I understand that my mind is obscuring my state. Then I can step back into my Self.
I see the difference between my vast inner Beingness and universes created by my mind. Those universes are puny compared to the inner vastness and depth of my being.
It is your mind’s repetitive thoughts that keep you bound. To head your mind toward liberation you need to transform your mind. You will still have a mind, yet you will know the One who has a mind.
Doing your yoga poses and Ujjayi Pranayama transforms your mind from the outside-inward. Yet the easiest, most powerful and most effective practices are yoga’s Grace practices. Working from the inside-outward, they give you the inner experience of Self. This profound experience transforms your mind. This is the function of a Shaktipat Guru. Swami Nirmalananda (Gurudevi) is such a Guru.
Yoga’s Grace practices include receiving Shaktipat and repeating the enlivened mantra. Plus you spend time with the Guru or you simply keep her in your thoughts. These practices are powerful conduits of Grace. They reveal your Own Self to you when you are practicing.
When you repeat mantra for meditation, you invoke Grace, and your meditations are deep and easy. You explore the inner realms of your being. These inner experiences of Self transform your mind. Through this transformation, you come to know the difference between your own Self and your mind. Now your mind is drawn toward liberation more quickly and more easily.
You will have the deep and immediate experience of your own Self again and again. You can come to live in that state of freedom all the time — with your eyes closed and with your eyes open. This is a beautiful way to live.
Guru Drona continued training the Kuru princes in his forest ashram after the episode with Ekalavya. Now we return to Vasusena, better known as Karna. While he was the adopted son of the charioteer Adhiratha and his wife Radha, he was the first born of Kunti, before her marriage. Yet no one, including Kunti, Karna and his foster parents knew who he really was. Kunti didn’t know that Karna was the baby she let afloat on the river, and Karna didn’t know that Kunti was his birth mother.
Karna was known by this name due to his birth with golden earrings attached to his ears. All through his youth, Karna was very interested in archery, and was very good at it, probably because of his genetic factor. The bond between Karna and his foster parents was one of pure love and affection. Yet they never approved of his interest in archery as it was something a charioteer’s son should not pursue in those days. Karna got into arguments with his parents because of this, many times. One day he was sick of his parents suppressing him from what he is good at, archery, so he left home. He went to many teachers, but all declined to teach him because he was not a kshatriya, meaning that he was not a royal or from the warrior class.
He was very disappointed but continued to search. He heard that the Kuru princes were being trained by Guru Drona. Karna went there and asked Guru Drona to accept him as his student and teach him archery. After asking who he was, Guru Drona refused to teach him for the same reason. They got into a quarrel. Karna questioned Guru Drona how he, not being a kshatriya, had the exception of learning archery. Drona explained that his Guru, Parashurama, taught these arts only to brahmin sages. At the end, Karna challenged that he would prove that he was better than Drona’s best pupil, Arjuna. Before leaving, Karna showed off by demonstrating the archery skills he already acquired on his own. It proved he had great skill with his bow and arrows.
Karna decided to get Parashurama as his Guru. Since Parashurama only taught the art of war to brahmins sages, Karna disguised himself as a brahmin sage. Arriving at Parashurama’s ashram, Karna asked Parashurama to teach him the art of archery, saying he was refused by all the teachers as he wasn’t a kshatriya. Parashurama said that he had retired from teaching archery. Steadfast in his motive to learn the skill he loved so much, Karna spoke kind words and tried to persuade Parashurama to agree. Due to the passion Karna displayed for archery, and due to the fact that Parashurama hated all the kshatriyas who had gone corrupt, he asked a final question, “Are you a brahmin sage?” With the greatest of hesitation in his heart, but with the greed for getting the knowledge of archery prevailing over the hesitation, Karna lied to Sage Parashurama, saying he is a brahmin sage.
Parashurama took him under his wing and taught him archery along with all other arts of war. In time, due to the respectful nature, obedience and the talent Karna displayed, he became very dear to Parashurama. Karna would do anything and everything for his Guru, never disobeying him. The years passed and the training was nearly at the end. Parashurama taught Karna to use the Brahmastra, the mightiest weapon of all. Karna was happy that his dream of mastering archery was becoming a reality.
One day, Parashurama requested Karna to bring a pillow for him to sleep outside in the shade. Karna instead wanted him to use his lap as a pillow. So Parashurama was resting with his head on Karna’s lap. While Parashurama was asleep, a huge bug came by and bit Karna’s thigh. Despite the pain, Karna did not move as he didn’t want to disturb his Guru. The bug bit deep into Karna’s leg, making blood flow.
When Parashurama woke up, he saw the blood on the ground and the bug bite on Karna’s leg. He realized at once that Karna was a kshatriya, as only a warrior could withstand such pain without moving. Karna came out with the truth, that he was the son of a charioteer, as he didn’t really know that he was a kshatriya at that point. Though Parashurama was very upset with Karna, his love towards his best disciplined student stopped him from cursing Karna. But he says, as Karna had lied to learn the skills, he would lose the knowledge at the most needed moment in his life, and that he cannot do anything to change that fate.
Karna pleaded with Parashurama to show him a way to overcome such a fate. Parashurama was unable to help Karna but bestowed on him his personal bow called “Vijaya” (victory) and blessed Karna to have everlasting honor. Having blessed him, Parashurama commanded Karna never to return as he has lost his trust.
Karna left Parashurama’s ashram with a very heavy heart. Being so disappointed with himself, he wandered around, hardly knowing where he was going. Suddenly an animal rushed past him. Without thinking he drew his bow and shot at the movement, killing the animal. When he went to the dead animal, a man shouted at him, angrily cursing him. “You have killed my poor innocent cow. For this sin, you will be killed when you are helpless to defend yourself, as my cow was!” Hearing this, Karna fell into a much more depressed state. As the fate seem to be against him, he went to the one person who loved him the most, the only person who could lift him out of his depression, his loving mother Radha.
Meanwhile in Guru Drona’s ashram, the princes had completed their schooling in all the arts of warfare. Yudhishthira was very good with the spear, Duryodhana and Bhima with the “gadha” (the mace). Arjuna was the best archer, while Nakula and Sahadeva were wonderful swordsmen. Bhishma proposed to arrange a show to showcase the princes’ abilities in all that they had learnt. Guru Drona gladly agreed to this, as he had full faith in his students. The day of the show was fixed, and the public declaration was made to mark the end of the princes’ training. The public was invited to watch the talent of the princes. A special arena was built for the purpose of the royal games.
It was indeed a grand event to watch. A large number of people and the dignitaries of the Kaurava court came to witness the event. Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, Vidura, Gandhari and Kunti were seated in a special section. Other ministers and high officials were in an adjacent section. All other citizens were in staired seating all around the venue. Bhishma was eager to see how much each prince had achieved in the art of warfare. Separate shows were held in various skills where the princes displayed what they had learnt.
Guru Drona introduced Arjuna with pride as he is his valiant student. Without disappointing his Guru, Arjuna showed his extraordinary archery skills. He shot an arrow into the earth and created a fearful leaping fire out of it. The crowd were scared and screamed upon seeing this. Then he shot another arrow skyward and caused a heavy downpour which extinguished the fire. The crowd burst into thundering applause at the archery feats of Arjuna. In like manner, he showed other skills which spoke very highly of his matchless perfection in archery. He won the admiration of all.
The next exciting event was the display of using the mace. Both Bheema and Duryodhana were very talented in the mace-wielding skills. They obviously had a feeling of bitter hostility between them. Duryodhana was jealous of Bheema because he had always proved superior to him whenever they came to clash. So, while showing their achievements in the art of using the mace they indulged in a real mace duel. Guru Drona sensed the hostility and signaled his son Ashwatthama to stop the fight. Ashwatthama lost no time in intervening to bring it to an end. With great difficulty he succeeded in pulling them apart.
In the meantime, Karna heard the news that the royal games were happening. He wanted to show his abilities to the crowd, though his foster parents were very much against it. After a lot of argument, he disobeyed them and rushed to the arena. Towards the end of the tournament, Karna arrived. Whenever he heard Arjuna being praised, Karna was beside himself with ill will and anger. Stepping into the arena uninvited, Karna thundered out a challenge, “Guru Dronacharya! You have praised Arjuna so highly and described him as matchless. I also want to show my archery skill for the public’s comparison.” All at the arena was surprise to see this young man, who shone with the brightness of the Sun God. Dronacharya wholeheartedly welcomed Karna to participate. Karna continued, saying, “I don’t want child’s play, I want a real combat with Arjuna to prove my superiority!”
Duryodhana’s heart was filled with joy to witness what was happening. The crowd in the arena also got excited hearing Karna’s invitation for a duel, which divided them into two groups, one supporting Arjuna and one for Karna. Kunti the mother of the Pandavas heard the commotion and looked at Karna. She immediately recognized Karna the son she left afloat in the river. It was very easy as she was quick to recognize the set of golden earrings and the sacred armor attached to his body. She fainted, unable to bear the sorrow of her older son inviting the other for a duel, due to ill fate.
At this point, the royal Guru Kripacharya intervened and asked Karna to declare his lineage, who his parents were and to which royal family he belonged. At first speechless, Karna revealed the truth about having been raised by Adhiratha, the charioteer of Grandsire Bhishma. Kripacharya rejected Karna’s request, saying the show was for princes and not for sons of charioteers. Therefore, he was saying that Karna could not participate in it at all.
Duryodhana came to Karna’s rescue and said, “Who says that Karna is not a prince? I declare him the ruler of the Anga Kingdom from this moment.” Of course, King Dhritarashtra jumped in right away to back his son’s wish, officially making Karna the King of Anga. Karna was so grateful to Duryodhana that he promised to guard him and his kingdom at any cost.
Just then, Adhiratha the charioteer came and embraced his son Karna. This made Bheema laugh at Karna, which caused Karna to feel very hurt. Duryodhana stood up for Karna once again. From that moment, Karna became the best friend of Duryodhana forever. Even though Duryodhana had a plan to use Karna as his weapon against the Pandavas, Karna wholeheartedly accepted his friendship and held Duryodhana in his heart until death. By the time this whole argument was over, the sun was about to set. By the rules, the show should be concluded.
Arjuna stood up and requested Kripacharya to allow him to say something. With Kripacharya’s permission, Arjuna said, “Listen Karna! This world is full of warriors and all sorts of talented people. They are too many to count. No one should consider himself invincible, nor do I. But by challenging me for a real battle, you have spoilt the spirit of this sporting event. You have shown your arrogance rather than your archery skills. I promise I will break your arrogant pride one day.” The audience gave out a loud applause for Arjuna words, which made Karna feel belittled. Arjuna’s fearless and well-guarded statement silenced Karna, who started repenting his tall claim. With that, Bhishma announced the close of the competition, much to the disappointment of Duryodhana, Karna and all their friends.
“The one thing constant in life is change,” advises an ancient Greek philosopher. The last year has certainly proven this to everyone in the world!
Yoga goes one step further, teaching that, in the midst of change, there is an inner principle that remains steady. The constancy of your own presence never leaves you. However, if you define yourself by the outer situations, your sense of self changes with the changes of life. One moment you will be happy, and the next moment you will not. If you measure your sense of self by your net worth, or if you are merely at the mercy of the evening news, you’ll be living on a roller coaster, rising and falling from heaven to an inner hell.
People react differently to change. Some people live for change. Others like to have a choice in the change. Some people resist change; others are relieved when it is thrust upon them. The most adaptable and flexible people are those with an inner sense core of stability. They handle and enjoy whatever life offers. One Sanskrit text describes this by stating, “Realizing the inner Truth, one can live anywhere.”
Your inner Self is the one changeless principle. When life is swirling around outside of you, your inner Self remains serene and undisturbed. A Sanskrit verse describes this as niralambaya, needing no support. You do not depend on an outer role or identity to prop up your sense of self. Your actions and words come from the changeless inner principle.
The goal of yoga is for you to live in this state. It is already familiar to you, because you get a taste of it at the end of every Svaroopa® yoga class. This inner assurance eliminates any need to defend or protect yourself. It is never affected by stress or hurry. It is the deep experience of your inner Self in every moment.
Once you’ve found it, it fills into the other parts of your life. This inner support becomes tangible in every moment of your day. The real meaning of life comes from your inner Self. This is what yoga gives you. You taste it in Shavasana (Relaxation Pose). It is there in every yoga pose. You can perfect it in meditation. In this way your practice of yoga becomes the perfect preparation for life — you are able to find the changeless principle even in the midst of life’s changes. Then, every change is a celebration of life itself! Do more yoga.
After the attempt on Bhima’s life, Bhishma had promised Kunti that he would make everything right. As the first step in keeping his word, he confronted Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra turned a blind eye to it as usual, trying to avoid the situation. But this time, Bhishma did not let Dhritarashtra off the hook so easily. With a very stern voice, Bhisma demanded that Dhritarashtra look into the matter and give the rightful punishment to Duryodhana and his brothers.
Dhritarashtra melted down. pleading with Bhishma that he cannot punish his children under any circumstances. Understanding that Dhritarashtra was not going to do anything on his own, Bhishma imposed that all the children would learn under Dronacharya at his Ashram. Bhishma thought that creating distance between Dhritarashtra and his children would give an opportunity for Duryodhana and his brothers to change, especially under the guidance of Dronacharya and without interference from their father. Unable to wiggle out the mess Duryodhana had created, Dhritarashtra had to agree to Bhishma’s mandate.
Bhishma’s plan was to make the Pandava and Kaurava cousins work together for the greater good of Hastinapura. After getting Dhritarashtra sorted out, Bhishma knew he also had to create distance between Duryodhana and his uncle Shakuni, if his plan had any chance of success. So he connected with Shakuni’s father, King Subala. He advised him to renounce his throne and make his eldest son, Shakuni, the king of Gandhara kingdom.
This would insure that Shakuni had his hands full on a daily basis., thus getting him away from the Kauravas. Shakuni was very upset with them about this plan, for his only aim was to punish the Kuru dynasty for what had been done to his sister Gandhari.
All the one hundred and five children prepared to go to Dronacharya’s Ashram. Word was sent to Dronacharya that his conditions were agreed upon by Dhritarashtra, and that the children will be arriving on the next auspicious day. Guru Drona was very happy that his dream of teaching the Kuru dynasty princes was coming true. He made all the arrangements for the arrival of his students.
Back in Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra was very upset that Duryodhana had put him in a position to make such a decision. At the same time, Duryodhana was very upset with his father because he hadn’t turned a blind eye as usual. By the time came for the children to leave, not only Dhritarashtra, but also Gandhari, Kunti and all of Hastinapura was in sorrow. Bhishma was firm about sending the children to the Ashram, far away from Hastinapura. Firm orders were issued that no one should contact the children and anyone who did would be severely punished.
The Pandavas and the Kauravas reached Guru Drona’s Ashram. They were welcomed by Guru Drona and his wife Kripi. The Ashram was located in a very thick jungle and had minimal luxuries. Used to luxuries of the palace for their whole life, Duryodhana and his brothers hated the place. But nothing could be done. On the other hand, the Pandavas had been brought up in a similar environment previously, therefore didn’t have any problem with it. All of them met Guru Drona’s son Ashwatthama, who was to study with them according to the agreement.
Ashwatthama was Guru Drona’s only son. He was a boon from Lord Shiva, after Guru Drona’s severe penance to please Lord Shiva. Ashwatthama was born with a gem on his forehead. It gave him power over all living beings other than humans and it protected him from hunger, thirst and fatigue. Hunger had been his childhood curse due to the poverty of his family. Duryodhana made sure that Ashwatthama became close to the Kauravas, rather than the Pandavas.
The gurukul studies and training started. The children were very busy and didn’t notice how the time was flying by. They were unable to think about home. All of the princes were good learners. After a few months of training. Guru Drona decided to test the ability of his pupils’ archery skills. He prepared a wooden bird and placed it on a branch of a tree. The Princes were asked to get ready with their bows and arrows. The target was the bird’s eye. Guru Drona asked them to come one by one, asking each the same question, “What do you see?”
Yudhishthira went first, being the eldest. He said, “I see the tree, branch and the entire body of the bird.” Guru Drona wasn’t satisfied with the answer. All followed after him and gave similar answers. The Guru was a bit disappointed. Then came Arjuna, who first touched the feet of his Guru, who blessed him to be successful. Arjuna set an arrow to his bow and took aim. Guru Drona repeated the same question. “What do you see?” Arjuna, with shining eyes, said, “I see nothing but the eye of the bird.” The Guru signaled him to shoot. Arjuna shot the arrow and in a flash the arrow pierced the bird’s eye. Guru Drona was very pleased, praising Arjuna’s one pointedness and hugging him endearingly, blessing him to be the invincible archer.
The Guru’s son Ashwatthama and Arjuna both loved archery, so they often practiced together. One night while they were eating together, a gush of wind blew their lamp out. They both continued eating in pitch darkness without spilling a single grain on the floor. Seeing this, Guru Drona taught them both how to hit a target blindfolded, guided by the sounds without visual help.
Another day, Guru Drona went for a swim in the river while the disciples stayed on the banks. Suddenly he screamed, “Help! Help! A crocodile has got my leg in its jaws!” The pupils were shocked by this and frozen to their feet not knowing what to do. Arjuna stayed calm, picked up his bow and shot an arrow, targeting the splashing sounds made by lashing tail of crocodile. The crocodile died, releasing Guru Drona from its hold. The Guru was saved.
He was delighted by the way Arjuna handled the situation. As a reward, he taught another exclusive teaching on Brahmashirsha astra. While Arjuna’s archery skills amazed everyone, the Kaurava princes felt jealous of him. They didn’t like the fact their Guru was partial to Arjuna, showing favoritism.
One day a tribal boy named Ekalavya came to see Dronacharya, asking him to be his Guru in the art of archery. The reaction from the princes, especially from the Kauravas was not good. They were against having Ekalavya as their classmate because of the difference in their status. As Guru Drona had already promised Bhishma that he would only teach the Kuru princes, he was helpless and had to refuse Ekalavya. But Ekalavya was a determined young boy. He respectfully bowed, picking up a handful of soil from the ground underneath the feet of Guru Drona, putting his hand to his forehead, then departed.
Without going back home, he went into the nearby forest. He collected a heap of clay and mixed in it the handful of soil he had brought from underneath the feet of Guru Drona. He created a clay model of Guru Drona. Every day he would touch the feet of the clay model of Guru Drona and practice archery on his own. One day Ekalavya was busy practicing shooting when a dog appeared and started barking at him. He tried to drive the dog away but it refused move. After it went on for some time, Ekalavya lost his patience and shot arrows at the dog. The arrows expertly stuffed the mouth of the dog shut without seriously wounding it.
Yelping, the dog yelping ran away. It belonged to one of the princes, so it returned to the Ashram. The princes were amazed to see its plight. Guru himself was stunned by the archery skill of the archer who had done that. They decided to follow the paw marks of the dog, searching for the skillful archer. They reached the place of Ekalavya who was still practicing. Guru Drona at once recognized the boy. Ekalavya was delighted to see his Guru visiting him. Guru Drona asked, “Are you the one who did this to the dog?” Ekalavya bent down on his knees and said he had to do that as the dog was disturbing him from his practices. Seeing Ekalavya with such talent, Guru Drona knew at once that he would outstrip his favorite pupil, Arjuna. His dream of making Arjuna the greatest archer of the world might not happen with such skills of Ekalavya.
So, Guru Drona asked Ekalavya, who was his Guru. Ekalavya humbly said, “You are my Guru.” Guru Drona was stunned by this answer and asked how that was possible, as he’d refused to take him as his student. Ekalavya immediately took him to the clay model. Pointing at it, he explained, “Even though you couldn’t accept me as your student, I had accepted you as my Guru in my heart. Whatever the skill I learned today is the gift of your blessing.”
Duryodhana was very happy to see Ekalavya. Duryodhana wanted to befriend Ekalavya so that Duryodhana would have a weapon to match Arjuna.
Even though Guru Drona was greatly pleased at Ekalavya’s devotion and persistence he was bewildered by this situation. As a Guru he couldn’t allow this situation to continue, as learning a skill without the Guru’s guidance must not be completed as it could be a danger to the world. He decided to put an end to it.
He asked for Guru-dakshina from Ekalavya. At the end of education, you give Guru whatever he asks as Gurudakshina. With delight, Ekalavya asked what Guru would want. Guru Drona asked for Ekalavya’s right thumb. Without a second thought, Ekalavya obeyed, cut off his thumb and placed it at the Guru’s feet. In this way, he set an example of devotion and obedience to the Guru. Ekalavya’s devotion to the Guru yet remains one of the greatest of all time. He also acquired the mastery of shooting with four fingers and later became the king of the Nishadhas.
All the princes were dumbstruck what had just taken place. Especially Duryodhana was heartbroken, that the plan he had in mind just got smashed by his Guru.
Walking to the window after meditation, I looked out at the life size Nataraja (dancing Shiva) in the garden. So peaceful and more than peaceful — still.
The total stillness of inner absorption shone from his face, captivating me. All around him the universe dances in ceaseless movement. Flames ring his body. One hand plays a drum. One knee is bent and lifted in the whirl. Shiva’s other foot pins a small being, who embodies ignorance, to the ground. Shiva’s dreadlocks fling wildly in all directions. A snake encircles one arm; another arm holds fire. Within all this frenzy, Shiva’s face radiates inner calm.
As I stood there, the stillness of Shiva’s face evoked pure inner peace within me. I thought, “This is what I need, this is what the world needs right now.” Can we stay calm, centered and fully alive in inner stillness while the world whirls? For a year, the world has been whirling around us on many levels. Sustained by yoga practices, you can settle within. You can experience inner calm even with an uncertain, chaotic world outside.
Nataraja — dancing Shiva — embodies the state of being fully grounded and centered in inner stillness. An ancient yogic text describes this divine inner state, which is called Turiya:
Madhye’vara prasava.h. — Shiva Sutras 3.23
Turiya should fill all three states, not just the beginning and ending of each. — Translation by Swami Nirmalananda
The three states of mind, which you cycle through daily, are waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Turiya, the fourth state, is a state of being. Turiya exists within and underlies all three states of mind. Turiya is your entryway to the deeper, divine stillness shining through Nataraja’s face.
You can understand turiya by thinking of the ocean. Each wave on the surface appears to be an individual wave. Yet what is each wave made of? It is made of ocean water. Even though each wave appears to be separate, when you look deeper, you see all waves are part of the vast ocean. In the same way, you live in the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Turiya is the ocean, your own deeper state of being. The other three states are superficial. Turiya is a much deeper state, hidden under the other three.
To see the waves as part of the ocean, you must dive deep into the ocean. In the same way, you find turiya by diving deeper within. Yoga’s meditative practices make this possible. You can access this divine state of inner bliss and calm. All yoga practices are for the purpose to turn you from outward focus to inward focus. Looking inward, you are carried to experiencing and knowing your own Self. Ultimately, you can abide in this bliss.
Once you realize you’re caught up in worldly bustle again, you can use a yoga practice to settle you back inside. Simply take a slow breath or two. Or, if you are standing, shifting your weight evenly into both feet. If you are sitting, settle your weight into both sitbones evenly.
The most powerful — yet still simple — of all yogic practices is mantra repetition (japa). You can do it silently anywhere. The sacred words of the mantra take you within, opening the doorway to the deeper dimension of your own being. You find your own Self, who you truly are. Amidst the whirling activity around you, you can settle into your own Self and abide there.
When I met Gurudevi Nirmalananda, I didn’t know about mystics. Yet it was obvious that she was having a different experience of being human than I was. Answering one of my questions, she said, “I experience more bliss than you do.” Bliss? What is bliss? I wanted to know more. I wanted to experience this “more bliss.”
By studying with Gurudevi, I learned that bliss is the experience of the knowing of your own Divinity. Gurudevi is established in this knowing. She also knows and sees that we are all the same One Divine Reality. This is true, even if we don’t know it. This was a radical concept for my scientific mind to grasp. Yet, from my own experiences with Gurudevi, I could not ignore the evidence of its truth.
As I studied further, I learned those who experience their beingness as one with the Divine are called mystics. This ultimate experience is not limited to one spiritual or religious path. There have been many mystics throughout time and across cultures. Here are some quotations from a few great mystics:
Saint Teresa of Ávila
Roman Catholic Saint
Lived: Spain 1515-1582
“The Lord is very deep within their own souls… Within oneself, clearly, is the best place to look; and it’s not necessary to go to heaven, nor any further than our own selves.”1
Julian of Norwich
English theologian and anchoress
Lived: England 1343-1416
“I saw no difference between God and our substance, but, as it were, all God.”2
Persian Mystic & Poet
Lived: Persia 858-922
“I am the Truth.”3
“I saw my Lord with the eye of the heart.
I asked, ‘Who are You?’
He replied, ‘You.’”4
Lived: India, 700-750
“I am completely full and perfect.
I am Shiva.
I am my own Self.
I am eternal bliss. I am eternal bliss.”
The mystics agree that you find the Divine within. And the Divinity you find within is not different from you.
As the science of mysticism, yoga describes in detail the mystical experience. Yoga also defines the stages and steps that take you to mystical knowing. Yoga’s practices, tested throughout time, are proven 100% reliable in taking you to this destination. Gurudevi is proof of that as a modern-day yoga master and mystic.
Gurudevi discovered her mystical reality by studying with her teacher Swami Muktananda. Muktananda did the practices his teacher, Bhagavan Nityananda, gave him. Gurudevi and Baba Muktananda followed the path defined by the science of yoga by following the directions from a Master teacher. It worked.
Muktananda describes his mystical experience as:
“He is supreme Bliss
and supreme Consciousness.
He, truly, is God,
is Nityananda, is Muktananda.”
Swami Muktananda, Mukteshwari, Verse 22
In this verse, Muktananda describes himself many ways, showing each is equivalent:
Consciousness, the knowingness of your own Self, is a bliss-full experience. It is the same as the One Divine Reality, also called God. This is who Muktananda discovered himself to be inside. It is the same One Divine Reality that Nityananda found within himself as himself. And it is the same Divine Essence that you will find as your own Self.
When you discover your inherent Essence, you will make the same statement. You can personalize Muktananda’s quote:
“I am supreme Bliss
and supreme Consciousness.
I, truly, am God,
am Nityananda, am Muktananda.”
That has been my experience. Sometimes I experience myself as Bliss, other times as Consciousness. I’ve also had the experience, “I am Nityananda.” The first time it happened, I was at Nityananda’s temple in Ganeshpuri India. I was waving a candle flame in front of Nityananda’s enlivened statue. On the outside, there appeared to be two: Nityananda and me. But my experience was that there was only One. I was Nityananda waving the flame to Nityananda. The flame and the air between us was Nityananda. The act of waving the flame was the same One Nityananda. Then on the inside Nityananda said to me, “I am Nityananda.” He wasn’t telling me his name. He was telling me who I am.
The mystics promise this result from the science of yoga. When you follow the scientific formula, you get the proven results. Originally tested in India over millennia, principles of the science of yoga are now being proven around the globe.
What is the scientific formula of yoga’s mystical practices? Study with a living mystic. Gurudevi Nirmalananda has mastered the formula by following her teacher’s directions. Now she guides you along the way since she knows both the path and the destination. Then you will also discover the mystical reality: Divinity is found within as you.
Darkness cannot resist the light. In a dark room, if you light a single candle, it banishes the dark. It works the same way when you do your yoga practices. Whether you are doing Svaroopa® yoga poses, breathing, mantra, meditation or more, there is a common denominator. You are invoking the light of your own being, which yoga names your capital-S Self. This light dwells within you as you.
Yet for most people the perception of this light is diminished or hidden — covered over by the darkness of not-knowing. Instead of seeing and being the light, you focus on the limitations that keep you in the dark.
Yoga gives you the tools to cut through those limitations, like a candle flame cutting through the darkness. When you access your own inner light, it can then shine forth fully. This quality of light and illumination is one reason that it is called “the fire of yoga.” This fire consumes what holds you back from the knowing of your own Self.
Here at the Ashram, we live across the street from a river. During the transition seasons we get heavy fog coming off the river in the mornings. The fog can be so thick that you are not able to see even a foot in front of you. Yet, like clockwork, when the sun rises, the light dissolves the fog.
There is a yogic teaching that describes this phenomenon:
The Fire of Consciousness, though concealed in the individual, burns away Maayaa’s limiting knowledge like fire burns fuel.
— translated by Swami Nirmalananda
In this aphorism, your own Self is named Chiti — the Fire of Consciousness. Fire is a good description for Chiti because the qualities of fire are light and heat. The light in this case refers to Chiti’s knowing, named Consciousness. Consciousness is the knowing of your own being; you know that you are you. This knowing is and can be described as light.
It’s like in those old-school cartoons when the character all of a sudden realizes something and a lightbulb goes on above their head. The light in the lightbulb represents understanding and knowing.
Chiti’s knowing also has the quality of heat. Like how fire burns fuel, the heat of your knowing burns away the density of your not-knowing. The not-knowing is named Maayaa, the contracting energy that conceals the light of your own being. When you are stuck in Maayaa, you think that you are this small and limited individual, lonely and alone. Svaroopa® yoga specializes in the turning within, to invoke your own inner light, which is the Fire of Consciousness. Like fog in the sunlight, Maayaa’s limiting knowledge is dissolved by this inner fire.
So how does this affect you in your day-to-day life? When you do Svaroopa® yoga practices, you shift your focus from Maayaa to Chiti, from outside to inside, from not-knowing to knowing. With this shift in focus, the density and thickness, which had been blinding you from seeing your own brilliant Self, simply melts away. You get immediate results. In your spiritual practice, you settle more deeply into your Self. It is a feeling of ease within your own skin. You feel like you. When you feel like you, you show up in your life with that same sense of ease.
Because you are based in the light of your own being, everything in your life becomes easier and more joyous. Even when you experience challenges, you face them with surety and steadiness. Darkness cannot resist the light because the light is who you truly are. To live in the light, to know and be it, do more yoga.
Even though they were born into a royal family, the Pandavas were brought up in a hermitage, with only a theoretical knowledge of city life. Once they came to live in Hastinapura, they managed to cope with the changes well, with the guidance from their mother Kunti, great-grandfather Bhishma and uncle Vidura. So, the sons of King Pandu, began to grow up in princely style in the home of their father. Everything was flowery at the beginning.
Duryodhana and his Kaurava brothers did not enjoy having their Pandava cousins in Hastinapura. The Kauravas were hostile due to their uncle Shakuni having poisoned their minds even before they met the Pandavas. In addition, great-grandfather Bhishma and uncle Vidura were giving equal attention to Pandavas, rather than the Kauravas getting their full attention as before. This added fuel to the fire.
The five Pandavas knew nothing about the Kauravas’ hatred of them. Led by the eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira, they treated the Kauravas as their loving cousins. Yudhishthira always upheld righteousness, which meant equality among the brothers and cousins.
The strongest of the Pandavas was Bhima who was the same age as Duryodhana. Always playful as he was, Bhima played tricks on all his brothers and cousins. As the strongest, he would bully them in a friendly manner. He pulled ten of them with one hand along the ground. When they were picking fruit, he was unable to climb the trees due to his weight. Instead, using his strength to kick the tree, would knock all the fruits to the ground along with his cousins.
Though the Pandavas thought they were having a good time with their cousins, the Kauravas didn’t look at it the same way. There were instances when the Kauravas insulted the Pandavas in many ways. Bhishma and Vidura tried their best to unite the cousins, but Kauravas’ minds had been poisoned by their uncle, Shakuni.
Both the Pandavas and Kauravas had started their preliminary education from various elders, in the hermitage and in Hastinapura respectively. It became time for them to get formal education and training in the arts of war and statecraft. Bhishma appointed the royal teacher of Hastinapura, Kripachariya to the job. Though Kripachariya accepted the job, he encouraged Bhishma to find a more suitable person to teach them; Kripachariya thought the Pandavas and the Kauravas had the capacity to go beyond what he was able to offer.
One day, when the Pandavas and Kauravas were playing with a ball, it fell into a deep well. They couldn’t get it out. While staring at the ball in the well, Yudhishthira’s ring slipped out of his finger and also fell into the well.
While they were blaming one another, a Brahmin, who was also an archer, with an impressive personality appeared in the grounds. He took a blade of grass, sharpened it and shot it like an arrow at the ball, reciting mantras. Then he followed it up with more blades of grass, forming a chain, then pulled the ball out.
Then he shot another arrow, which went into the bottom of the well and came back with Yudhishthira’s ring. The children were astonished as to how that was possible. Especially Arjuna, who loved archery, was taken by this.
When they asked who he was, he told them to take the ball with the grass blade chain to their grandsire Bhishma to get the answer. The children ran to Bhishma, showed him the grass blade chain and told him what happened. Bhishma stood up saying, “Dronacharya is here!”
Dronacharya was the son of Rishi Bharadwaja and a student of great Parashurama. He was also Kripachariya’s brother-in-law, being married to Kripi, the sister of Kripachariya. He had come to visit his brother-in-law.
Immediately, Bhishma invited Dronacharya to the palace and bestowed high respect and honor on him. He requested Drona to be the teacher and guru to the Pandavas and Kauravas. Though Drona was poor, he had his own principles. Drona had two conditions. One was that his son Ashwatthama would study side by side with the princes, which is usually not allowed in a royal setting. The other was that the teachings would be done in seclusion in his ashram and training ground, which was far away from Hastinapura.
Dhritarashtra was agreeable to the first condition. But, due to his love for his children, he was not willing to part with his sons. Therefore rejected the second condition. Dhritarashtra wanted the teaching to happen in the outskirts of Hastinapura. Drona turned down the offer and returned to his ashram, saying they could contact him if they changed their mind.
As the days passed, the Pandavas began to feel the Kauravas’ hostility toward them due to the way their cousins treated them. As the eldest Kaurava, Duryodhana couldn’t stomach the fact that there was competition for the throne he’d been thinking would be his one day. Thus, he and his brothers started to give grief to the Pandavas. Dhritarashtra’s desire to make his eldest be king after his own time had seeded the thought in Duryodhana. Now it rooted in his mind and made him do anything to achieve it.
Duryodhana had a strong dislike for the Pandavas and missed no opportunity to demean them. He was aware that, in order to rule over the entire kingdom of Hastinapur unchallenged, he needed to eliminate them. So the Kauravas always looked at the Pandavas as their enemies. With their uncle Shakuni’s help, they devised cunning plans first to kill Bhima, as Duryodhana envied him the most due to Bhima’s strength. Duryodhana always said, after killing Bhima, finishing the others off would be an easy task.
King Dhritarashtra, turned a blind eye to every wrongdoing of his sons. His love for them, especially with his eldest Duryodhana, got in the way of his disciplining and punishing them. This made it easy for Duryodhana to continue their ill treatment of the Pandavas.
Duryodhana, knowing Bhima would fall for anything with food, planned to poison him in a dinner which Duryodhana would host. He planned everything with his uncle’s help. By this time, Yudhishthira and his brothers were careful about their cousins, but Bhima believed in his strength so much that he dropped his guard a lot, especially when food was involved.
Duryodhana had a mock castle and garden built near the banks of the river Ganga for the cunning plan he had in mind. He got his father’s chefs to make a lot of food for a feast and invited his cousins for the outing.
At the feast, Duryodhana mixed a very poisonous venom in Bhima’s food, which came from his mother Gandhari’s kingdom with the help of his uncle. In the happiness of seeing all the food, Bhima ate the poisoned portion too. Though he noticed a difference in taste, he was so busy eating and didn’t bother to examine it. He was not expecting that Duryodhana and his brothers would stoop to a level that they would try to kill him.
As it was a slow reacting poison, Bhima didn’t feel anything at the beginning, so he kept on eating. Everyone was tired after all the games and the food, so they retired for the night to their rooms. Without him realizing it, Bhima began fading away in his sleep, due to the poison working in his body. Knowing how long it took for the poison, Duryodhana waited patiently. Then, his brother Dushasana helped him carry Bhima to a deep part of the river and push him in with his hands and legs bound.
Bhima sank down to the bottom of the river, where some venomous water snakes bit him. Bhima woke up and fought them to save himself, thinking the serpents were attacking him. He tried to chase them away with the strength that was left in him. To his astonishment Vasuki, the king of snakes, came and greated Bhima. Vasuki said that he sent his clan to save Bhima from the venom he had in his body. Vasuki also explained that Bhima was related to him and that Lord Vayu, the God of wind, had sent him a message that Bhima was in danger. Vasuki gave Bhima the details of the venom and its origin, which immediately revealed what had really happened. Bhima was taken to Nagaloka. the world of snakes, to recover.
The next day, at the play castle, the Kauravas and the other Pandavas set out to go back to Hastinapura. They start off without Bhima who was missing. On their way they talked to one another, figuring that Bhima must have gone home before them. The wicked Duryodhana and Dushasana knew what had happened. Though they were glad at heart that Bhima was missing, they didn’t show it out to their cousins.
Arriving in Hastinapura, the four Pandavas didn’t find their brother as they had expected to. When they broke the news to Kunti, as a mother, she felt that something was wrong. She had been observing the way the Kauravas were treating Pandu’s sons lately. She spoke to uncle Vidura about her concern that Duryodhana was involved in Bhima’s disappearance. Vidura advised Kunti not to take it to anyone else without evidence, as things might get even worse given Dhritarashtra’s mindset. He assured her not to fear too much.
Though King Dhritarashtra was eager to have his son as the next king, he didn’t want any harm done to his brother’s children. Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, Vidura and the rest of the elders were saddened by the recent events and tried to console each other. They sent a number of search parties all around the kingdom to find Bhima. Kunti performed a number of penances for the safe return of her son. All of the search parties returned with no luck. Thinking Bhima was dead, Kunti and the Kuru family fell into deep sorrow and started to discuss doing the last rites for Bhima.
Back in Nagaloka, the world of the snakes, Vasuki and the other Nagas gave Bhima the best hospitality until he was healthy and ready to leave. After a few days, regaining his full strength, Bhima wanted to go back to his family. He was blessed by Vasuki and the other snakes. Vasuki gave an auspicious nectar to Bhima, which made him even stronger, giving him the power of hundred elephants. Then Vasuki brought him to the surface of the water and placed him in the garden where he had been having fun.
The mighty Bhima, arriving on the surface of the earth, thanked Vasuki and the other Nagas. Vasuksi vanished. Bhima ran to Hastinapura to see his mother. Arriving there, he bowed down to Kunti, the elders and his eldest brother Yudhisthira, and hugged his younger brothers. Everyone was extremely happy to see Bhima back. But Duryodhana, his brothers and Shakuni were dumbfounded and extremely unhappy.
After returning to their chambers, Bhima narrated to his mother and brothers everything about the villainy of Duryodhana, and the unlucky and lucky incidents that had happened to him in the play castle and the Nagaloka. Thereupon Yudhishthira told the brothers to observe silence on this matter and, from that day onwards, to protect one another with care.
Hearing Bhima’s story, Kunti decided to leave Hastinapura and take the Pandavas to her father. Through a spy, Bhishma learned everything that happened and advised Kunti against deserting Hastinapura. Bhishma gave his word to make things right. Kunti accepted Bhishma’s word and remained in Hastinapura with her sons.
My friend texted, “ “My feast is finally ready. No veggies. Just carbs. I love that Mac & Cheese.” On Christmas Day, she sent a lovely picture of steaming Mac & Cheese, homemade wheat bread and a pecan pie. Later she texted, “I can’t stop eating it. I have no control. I want that bliss feeling over and over and over.”
Especially during the holidays, many people find themselves in this food frenzy. They go from one bliss bite to another. Some even get bliss from veggies like collard greens, kale or a fresh green salad. Your body knows these foods are what it needs. You can feel your body absorbing the vitamins and minerals. Bliss treat! Unfortunately, it’s temporary.
You are propelled into seeking bliss because your essence is bliss but you’re not in touch with it. Your bliss need is built into you. Anytime bliss is missing, you don’t feel like yourself. When you are in bliss, you stop chasing and settle into who you really are.
We not only seek bliss from food. We also seek bliss from places, people, pets, music, etc. If I get to sit in the garden, if I talk with that person, hug my pet, listen to beautiful music or go for a walk, I will feel happy. It works most of the time, though not always. On a cold winter day when it’s sleeting, you cannot sit in your garden. You cannot enjoy the sun and the view of the beautiful trees, flowers and birds. When you call a dear friend, sometimes they are needy or grumpy. At times, your pet is whiny, not cuddly. Sometimes your favorite music does not give you a bliss hit. Walking can be no fun when your body is hurting. The things on your happiness list are not always reliable. In fact, they can cause you pain, especially when they don’t give you the bliss treat you wanted and needed.
Later that same day, I phoned my friend. She had a belly ache and sadly announced that she no longer loves pecan pie. After all these years of giving her a bliss treat, the pie was now too sweet. My friend asked what I was doing on Christmas. I replied, “I am doing a full-day yoga retreat at the Ashram from 5:15 am to 9:30 pm. We are doing three rounds, each with a yoga class, chanting and meditation. With each round I experience more and more bliss.” My friend said, “For bliss I do treats, and you do retreats.” We laughed.
Yes, you can do bliss treats that give you momentary experiences of bliss. This is called dependent bliss. You depend on something outside of you to give you bliss. That thing, however, will eventually lead to pain in one of two ways. It leads to pain when you do too much of it. Or you experience pain when that thing fails to give you the bliss you wanted.
It’s called “normal” to try to get in as many bliss treats as you can every day, so you will make yourself happy. Yet, in-between the bliss treats you will be dissatisfied, even in pain. My teacher explains that you must find bliss within:
For lasting bliss, for ever-expanding ecstasy, you have to find the inner source. Your own Self is the source of cosmic bliss. Once you’ve experienced it, it is the only kind you’ll ever really be satisfied with.
— Swami Nirmalananda, Practical Mysticism 5: Pleasure, Pain & Sex
What if you could live in bliss all the time no matter where you were, who you were with or what you were doing? This is independent bliss. To build this capacity you need bliss retreats. Yoga retreats are about finding your source of bliss — inside. You don’t need it to be a whole day. A bliss retreat can be just a minute or a little more.
For an instant bliss retreat, you can repeat mantra, chant or meditate. How does this work? While you do these practices, your brain is rewiring itself. This capacity is called neural plasticity. Few people grasp how quickly this shift can happen and how extensive brain changes can be. How much control each of us has over the process is surprising! In Bliss Brain, Dr. Dawson Church finds stunning evidence of rapid and radical brain change. In just eight weeks of meditation, 12 minutes a day, he found that measurable changes are produced in our brains. These changes make us calmer, happier, and more resilient.
Dr. Church says, “When we cultivate these pleasurable states over time, they become traits. We don’t just feel more blissful as a temporary state; the changes are literally hard-wired into our brains, becoming stable and enduring personality traits.” His research shows that neural remodeling goes much farther than scientists have previously understood, with stress circuits shriveling over time. Simultaneously, “The Enlightenment Circuit” — associated with happiness, compassion, productivity, creativity, and resilience — expands.”
Long before these discoveries by researchers, the ancient sages knew this experience and described it:
Lokanandah samadhi-sukham. — Shiva Sutras 1.18
In every moment, such a yogi easily experiences the bliss of Consciousness.
— Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda
Who is such a yogi? Such a yogi is established in the experiential knowing of their own Divine Self. How do you get there? Church states that during deep meditation “the 7 neurochemicals of ecstasy” are released in our brains. These include anandamide, a neurotransmitter that’s been named “the bliss molecule.” Notice that aananda, the Sanskrit word for bliss, is the root of the neurotransmitter anandamide. Your brain makes bliss chemicals.
How does this work? Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation specializes in carrying you to the source of bliss, your own Divine Essence, your own Self. This feeling of your own Self has a physical effect on your body and your mind. Your mind becomes saturated in bliss of your own being.
Starting right now, through the Svaroopa® Sciences practices developed by Swami Nirmalananda, you can begin to rewire your brain for bliss. It will not take 8 weeks. It won’t even take 12 minutes. In this Shaktipat tradition, the effects are almost instantaneous. Our practices are infused with Divine Power. This Grace flows through our lineage — Swami Nirmalananda, her Guru, Baba Muktananda, and his Guru, Bhagawan Nityananda, and meditation masters back through countless ages. Each has added their energy, support and blessings to these practices.
You put forth even a little bit of effort and you get an avalanche of benefit back. The practices that return the most bliss for your investment of time are chanting, japa (repetition of mantra), and especially meditation. Even a minute of these practices will begin to rewire your brain for bliss, revealing your own Divine Essence to you. January is a lovely time to make a New Year’s Resolution. You choose — treats or retreats. Yoga promises that, when you do more and more yoga, your state will be continuous ever-expanding ecstasy.
While you’re waiting for life to get back to normal, you’re still limited in where you can go and who you can see. Sheltering in place means you can’t do a lot of your usual things. However, the truth is that most of them are timewasters.
I remember arriving at a rural hotel in India near an Ashram I was visiting. The staff member taking me to my room proudly pointed out their pool, tennis courts and a game room. He encouraged me to make use of their amenities but I demurred. Shocked, he asked, “What will you do to kill time?”
I don’t want to kill time. I want to make full use of every precious moment. Life is for living, I learned from the fictional sage named Auntie Mame. I’m still sure she was right. But what kind of living can you do in a pandemic? Well, it turns out that living fully is not about being busy in every moment. It’s about being more alive, whether you’re busy or quiet. The whole point of yoga is to make you more alive, more present, more fulfilled and full-filled within yourself.
For that, you need to find your capital S-Self — the Divine Reality within you that is you. Svaroopa® Vidya Meditation opens your access to this vast, pure, sacred and holy interior dimension. The specialty of this tradition is Shaktipat, the inner opening which gives you easy access to the God within.
It’s the God-feeling that I’m talking about, not the personhood of God, not your idea of who or what God is – but what you feel inside when you experience God. My Guru explained it this way:
Bhave hi vidyate devo.
God is in your feeling
You know the feeling. I know the feeling. You look for this inner feeling in so many places and in so many ways – but the reality is that, when you feel it, it’s inside. No matter where you go or what you do, the experience is an internal experience.
I went to a concert put on by the Tibetan Gyüto monks; each man sings a chord on his own. And they sing it all together. It is amazing! But it’s not the sound that’s so incredible – it’s the inner experience it provokes. Time stops as these sounds hang in the air, combining and twining around each other – total timelessness, pure space and vastness, deep inner opening and pure bliss. The God-feeling. That’s the point.
At the summer camp I went to as a teen, there was a quiet area, a lookout point, reserved for those who joined a special group. We got special badges and only those with the badge could go to this spot. It was a place of silence. I loved it there, but I couldn’t figure out why. I’d go look at the view of the valley, but the feeling didn’t come from there. It didn’t come from the trees, not from the earth or the rock I liked to sit on. What I couldn’t figure out was that it was coming from inside me. The God-feeling. That’s the point.
I sat in the sunroom of my home the other day, sipping some hot tea. After a while I stopped sipping and just enjoyed the light filtering through the clouds and trees. No words. No reason to be there, no reason to leave. No memories or plans. Just being. The God-feeling. That’s the point.
Meditation is the best pathway, of course. We use mantra to get past the mind’s churning, to dive deeper within. It’s amazingly easy, thanks to the energy planted in the mantra by my Guru, and by his Guru before him as well as the many preceding generations.
Maybe this is what you can do with yourself during remaining months of the pandemic — get filled from the inside out. Maybe this could be your New Year’s resolution: to discover your own capital S-Self. For that, you must meditate.