Category Archives: Mystical Living

Satisfaction

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

An ancient yogic teaching was rendered into a modern-day sutra (aphorism) by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones:

I can’t get no satisfaction…

I try, and I try, and I try, and I try…

Your heart and your whole being yearn for a satisfaction that the world cannot provide.  Whether you’re striving for recognition on the job or in your relationships, a new home or a new car, whiter teeth or a better nose, or anything else – you can get it, but you’re still not satisfied.  That sense of full and complete satisfaction is rare, and it is essential.  Without it, life becomes a treadmill with no end in sight.

You have had experiences of complete satisfaction, perhaps better described as supreme contentment.  One tantric text describes how nature can provide such profound experiences, whether you are looking at a vast view, getting lost in the woods or watching the ocean.  In that timeless moment, you feel complete.  You feel whole.  There is nothing you need or want; there is nothing you need to do.  I have heard people say, “If I died right now, it would be OK.”

The first time I experienced this completeness, and I knew I was having an experience while I was having it, was at the top of a mountain.  Mt. Tamalpais is not your ordinary mountain.  Overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean, it is easily accessible — you can drive to the parking lot at the summit.  My cousin took me there one afternoon.  We wandered along different paths across the grassy field adjacent to the parking lot, so I had no clue what lay in my immediate future.  As I came up over a rise, the whole breathtaking scene of bridge, bay and ocean burst open in front of me.  As I write this, the hairs on my arms are standing on end.  The memory of the event places me there again!

Yet I knew that something else was happening.  Something I didn’t understand.  I looked more closely at the bridge, thinking, “Is it you that is making me feel this way?”  I looked at the sunset washing its colors over the fog bank, asking “Is it you?”  I looked for the source of this ecstasy, but I could not find it in any of the things I saw, nor in the totality of the scene.  I didn’t know that the source of what I had experienced, the sense of bursting open, was and is inside.  A few months later, I found my way to my Guru, who gave me access to that inner source, which is my own Self.  Your Self is in the same place, inside you.

Yoga calls this experience pratyabhij~na (prat-ya-bij-nya), which means recognition, referring to the recognition of your own inherent divinity.  This is the only thing that truly satisfies you.  This is why it is so hard to get satisfaction — you are looking in the wrong place.  You are trying so hard, you try and you try and you try to get satisfaction from things that simply cannot provide it.

Why do you try so hard?  One reason is that your hard works pays off, but only sometimes.  Sometimes, like a runner after a long race, you get satisfaction.  You might be exhausted, but somehow, through the exhaustion, that feeling of full and complete satisfaction bubbles up.  Yoga’s ancient teachings explain how this works:  when you gain something you strenuously wanted, your mind stops; every time your mind stops, the bliss of your own being arises within you.

It’s like me standing there, overlooking the San Francisco Bay, realizing that the incredible feeling didn’t come from the view.  It’s not like the view was emanating little bliss-bits that were soaking through my skin to make me happy from the outside-in.  I knew that I didn’t understand the source of my feeling, but now I know why — I didn’t know where to look.

So when you work hard at something, or you desire it hard enough, and then you get it – you experience pratyabhij~na, what the Stones call “satisfaction.”  This happens every time your mind stops, which is why so many of yoga’s practices are for the express purpose of quieting your mind.  And when your mind settles into quietude, you experience the deeper dimension within, svaroopa — your own Self.

Originally published March 2010

Krishna Avatar – Part 4

by Nirooshitha Sethuram

The whole town of Gokul was in joy, especially Nanda and Yashoda, the new parents of Krishna, named for his dark complexion.  The cowherds of Gokul were so happy that their leader had a child to continue leading them that they decorated with garlands to celebrate Krishna’s birth.  From that day onward, the life of all the Gopis (milkmaids) and Gopalas (cowherd boys) revolved around Krishna, the divine baby.

But in the city, King Kamsa was very upset that he had been unable to kill Krishna, the prophesied eighth child.  Still targeting the children who were born in the month of Shraavana, Kamsa sent out one of his seven demons, Trinavarta, to hunt for the eighth child.

Trinavarta could change himself into a whirlwind.  He roamed all around and came to Gokul.  Krishna was at the crawling age.  Yashoda was cradling him on her lap but felt his weight as unbearably heavy for some reason, so she put him on a mat on the floor and went about household work.  Knowing Trinavarta was in the area, Krishna crawled to the doorstep so that Trinavarta could see him.

Trinavarta saw Krishna, whose appearance matched what he was seeking.  Becoming a whirlwind, he made the whole of Gokul dark with the dust, picked up Krishna and took him away.  Yashoda came checking on Krishna, found him missing and fainted.

Trinavarta carried Krishna for a while but found Krishna’s weight increasing.  It increased to a point where Trinavarta was unable to carry Krishna anymore and fell on the ground, coming out of his whirlwind form.  He fell with Krishna on top of him.  The weight of Krishna increased to a point where Trinavarta choked and died under the unbearable weight of Krishna.  The villagers found Krishna playing on the chest of Trinavarta’s body.  They picked Krishna up and Trinavarta’s body turned into dust.  This was another failed attempt by Kamsa.

Krishna was so powerful, as made evident on another occasion.  This happened on his first-year birth star (janmashtami) ceremonies.  The whole of Gokul was invited, including the wise and learned pundits who beautifully recited Vedic hymns to bless Krishna.

Yashoda gave Krishna a holy bath (abhishek) and got him ready for the ceremony but, after the bath, little Krishna fell asleep.  She laid him under a cart outside for shade, a cart filled with heavy items.  Yashoda asked some older kids to keep an eye on Krishna.  She got really busy, taking care of the pundits’ and the guests at the ceremony.

Baby Krishna woke up and started crying, wanting milk.  With all the noise around her, Yashoda couldn’t hear his cry.  Krishna got angry and kicked the wheel of the cart with his tiny feet.  The huge heavy cart crumbled down into pieces.  No one in Gokul could believe that Krishna was the one to wreck the cart.

These events confirmed to the Gokul residents that Krishna was not just any child.  But what they didn’t know was that cart wheel was none other than a demon named Shakatasura who was sent by Kamsa to kill Krishna.  Shakatasura attained mukti (liberation) due to the fact that the Lord’s feet touched him.

Krishna was growing up fast in Gokul, his brother Balarama by his side.  They loved each other so much that one couldn’t live without the other.  Both of them were very mischievous.  Especially Krishna, who would provoke Balarama and all their friends into doing mischievous activities.  Sometimes they would grab the ends of the tails of the calves.  The calves would then run here and there.  The children would hold on to the tails tightly, pretending they too were scared.  The Gopis would come to their rescue and it all will be very dramatic.

Krishna and Balarama would go into all the houses in Gokul, stealing the curd (yogurt) and butter from the household, most of the time escaping, but sometimes getting caught.  Everyday there were a few villagers at Yashoda’s and Rohini’s doorsteps, complaining about the kids.  But there was no way to stop the brothers from stealing the milk, curd and butter.

All the brothers did was sit silently, like good boys, yet they were planning the heist for the next day.  Different strategies and different techniques had to be planned every day as the villagers made hurdles and preventive methods against the previous strategies the brothers had used.

For example, the pots containing the curd and butter were usually kept on the floor. Then the villagers moved the pots to high tables.  When that too didn’t work, they hung the pots from the roof.  The brothers were so bad that, if they were unable to get to the curd and butter, they broke the pots and ate whatever they could, making the rest unusable.  The villagers were having quite a time with the mischievous brothers.

Krishna was always the leader, while he made sure he shared it with all the kids in Gokul, thus they were always on his side.  He shared it not only with his human friends, but also with his animal friends, especially with the charming monkeys, who were as mischievous as he.

Yashoda and Rohini didn’t know what could be done.  However, much punishment was given to Krishna and Balarama, they always found a way to convince their mothers to forgive them.  One day, Yashoda and Rohini sat the two brothers in the garden and made sure they didn’t get any food, as their punishment.  The brothers were hungry.  Krishna took a handful of dirt, ready to put it in his mouth.  Balarama saw this and thought their mothers would be angry if he let Krishna eat dirt.  Trying to stop Krishna, he couldn’t get the dirt out of Krishna’s mouth.  He took Krishna by his hand and pulled him over to mother Yashoda, telling her that he tried to stop Krishna from eating dirt. but Krishna wouldn’t listen.

Yashoda was worried that Krishna was going to get sick and asked him to open his mouth so she could get the dirt out.  First, he refused to open his mouth, then later he opened it, due to his mother being persistent.  Yashoda looked inside Krishna’s mouth and saw all the worlds, stars, galaxies and universes in it, including all that exists, movable and immoveable.  Most surprisingly, she saw herself just as she was at the very moment, looking in her darling Krishna’s mouth.  Unable to comprehend, she fainted and fell on the floor.

On regaining consciousness, she was unable to describe what she had seen.  All she could do was hug Krishna and not let him out of her arms for the longest time.  It was the play of Lord himself, filling her with great maternal affection, making her forget the vision she’d witnessed.

The complaints about the butter thieves kept on coming.  On another day, Rohini locked Balarama in a room.  Yashoda took a stick in her hand and chased Krishna, who was running as fast as he could, through houses, courtyards and gardens.  At last she caught him!  She tied Krishna to a mortar.  Of course, the Lord let himself be caught by his mother.

It wasn’t easy for Yashoda to tie little Krishna to the mortar.  A motor is a cup-shaped receptacle made of heavy hard wood, in which ingredients are crushed, ponded or ground, using a heavy pole with a smooth bottom, especially used in cooking and pharmacies.  As she picked up the rope to tie around him, she found the rope to be two inches too short.  She found another piece of rope and tied it to the first one, wrapping it again.  It also was two inches too short.  Then she tried another one and another one, but they were always two inches too short.

She was bewildered and got tired of trying to tie little Krishna.  Lord Krishna felt compassion for his mother and decided to get bound, because of her true love for her son.  Yashoda thought that the mortar was so heavy that small Krishna would not be able to get around to his mischiefs.  She went to the kitchen to continue her household work.

Krishna couldn’t stay long.  He got bored so he started pulling the motor around the garden to try and get free from it.  He came across two gigantic arjuna trees, growing side-by-side.  Thinking that was the way for his great escape, he pulled the mortar between the two trees, thinking that will free him.  But, with his mighty power, he uprooted both the trees, which fell on the ground with a thud.  Two celestial beings appeared out of the trees.  They worshipped Krishna in a thankful manner and disappeared joyfully.  Who are these two celestial beings?

Once there were two brothers named Nalakubera and Manigriva, sons of Kubera, the king of wealth.  Handsome and wealthy, they were accustomed to worldly enjoyment such as drinking, smoking, dancing and pursuing other mundane desires.  One day they were so enamored of their wives that they didn’t notice the arrival of the great Sage Narada.  Insulted by their behavior, Narada cursed them to remain as two trees in Gokul forever.

Hearing this, their wives fell at the sage’s feet, asking him to forgive their husbands and take back his curse.  Narada relented, but a curse once given cannot be retracted; it can only be modified.  So Narada amended the curse, such that Lord Vishnu would release their husbands when he incarnates as Krishna.  Thus, Lord Krishna fulfilled the prophecy of his dear devotee Narada.

Yashoda and Nanda heard a thunderous sound, as if a thunderbolt had struck the village, and came out running.  The found that Krishna had uprooted the two huge trees which had been next to each other in the garden.  Shocked to see what Krishna had done, Yashoda stood amazed.  It was, after all, impossible for a little boy to knock down two huge trees.  But they remembered the words of Garga Muni, who named Krishna, announcing that the Supreme Lord had appeared as this child.

More to come…

Fully Embodied, Fully Enlivened, Fully Enlightened, Fully Empowered Consciousness

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

When you are fully present in your body, it is fully enlivened, yet your experience is that you are Consciousness while living in your body.  A body with no one home is called a corpse.  As you become more embodied and more enlivened, you come to know who you are.  The deeper level of this experiential knowing is the inner discovery of your own Self, your inherent Divinity.  Then you bring it into the world.

  • Fully Embodied — Any area where you have pain or tension is an area where you’re not fully embodied. You vacated the area long ago and it’s “dying on the vine.”  Your body is suffering from your absence.  Pain is how your body gets your attention, so you’ll come back and occupy this part of your territory.  Unfortunately, pain also makes you recoil away from the area that hurts, when the exact opposite is needed.  Simply send a few slow breaths into the painful area and it will begin to feel better.  It might take 8 or 10 breaths if it’s been a long time since you lived in there.  And you’ll have to do it again and again, until you move back in.
  • Fully Enlivened — Your presence in your body is what makes it alive. As you become more present, your body becomes more enlivened, thus healthier, stronger and more vital.  As wonderful as this can be, the point is not merely about your physical condition.  It’s wonderful to be well and to feel well, but it is merely a symptom of your being present.  This power of your own presence is yoga’s true goal.
  • Fully Enlightened — Knowing and being the Divinity that you already are, you radiate Consciousness. Often called “enlightened,” the term implies that you are shining with light, like a light bulb.  You are not merely full of light, you are the light itself, the knowingness itself.  You are the beingness that is being all.
  • Fully Empowered — Not merely experiencing the bliss of Consciousness, you bring it into the world in an active way. Making enlightened decisions, you carry them into action.  Enlightenment is not retirement.  Enlightenment is empowerment.  It motivates you to make a difference in the world, not just for the few people you are related to.  Your mission expands along with your ability to accomplish it.

Together these four phrases mean you are Consciousness, being an individual who lives in a body, which is a form of Consciousness.  To know your own Self is to embrace embodiment along with all it brings, yet knowing that you are more than the circumstances of your life or condition of your body.

I coined this phrase to succinctly describe the goal as well as the pathway toward it.  It helps you understand the purpose of the Svaroopa® Yoga poses and breathing practice.  Each inner opening makes you better able to be present in your body.  Your body becomes progressively more and more enlivened, while you become more fully aware of who you are, the one that lives in your body.  You bring that fullness of being into your life and into the world.

This is pure tantra.  This phrase says that, as you become more established in the Consciousness that you already are, you also become more embodied and more alive.  You participate in life fully.  This is not an ethereal, other-worldly spirituality.  It’s not about becoming airy, frail, impractical, inept or incompetent.  As the full spectrum of human capacity awakens in you, you become more competent, more productive, more powerful and more compassionate, all at the same time.

From the Inside-Out

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Vidyadevi Stillman

Recently a student arrived at one of our 10-day trainings wearing a hand brace. Her doctor was planning surgery for her debilitating pain, caused by ulnar nerve entrapment; the band of nerves were compressed at her elbow, set improperly after a break thirty years ago, with arthritis also impinging on the nerves.  She says, “In a few days I didn’t need my hand brace — tangible evidence of the opening I was feeling, first in my tailbone and then into shoulders, neck and down my arm. Now, I experience pain occasionally, but my practice takes care of it.”  She also reports that the doctor now says there is no reason to have the surgery.

All these changes came from the inside-out.  Svaroopa® yoga provides these types of physical benefits because decompressing your spine helps your bones, muscles, joints, nerves and even your internal organs.  Your internal organs don’t function well when they are being compressed, as if “squeezed in a vise,” even for 20, 30 or 40 years.   Worse, spinal compression impinges on the nerves leading from your spinal cord to your organs, so your organs can’t function properly.  Every chiropractor and osteopath will explain how this can affect your digestion, respiration, glands, your heart, etc.

When your Svaroopa® yoga teacher talks about core opening, she or he means the poses are decompressing your spine, yet it is your spinal cord and nervous system that are of primary importance, not just your vertebrae. This is completely consistent with yoga’s ancient teachings. Thousands of years ago, the sages mapped it all, but at a deeper level than medical science currently explores.

The atomic energy that becomes the physical matter of your own body moves in predictable patterns, with the primary ones shown in this diagram.  Your body is made up of 720 million naa.dis (energy channels), all of them branching out from the core flow in your spine.  Thus the most important naa.di is the central one: your spine.

Madhya vikaasaac cidaananda laabha.h — Pratyabhijnahrdayam 17

By development of the middle channel (your spine), you attain the bliss of consciousness.

Through core opening, not only will you get amazing healings, but yoga promises more:  the bliss of consciousness.  This bliss arises from its source, which is your own svaroopa — your own Self.  Medicine doesn’t talk about this much, yet acknowledges that your “spiritual beliefs” can affect your body’s ability to heal as well as your mental and emotional state.  (D. Aldridge, “Spirituality, healing and medicine,” British Journal of General Practice)

This is perfectly mapped in your naa.dis and cakras (energy centers, pronounced ‘cha-kras’), which are familiar from so many drawings. To the right, you see the central channel (su”sumnaa naa.di) and two side channels (ida naa.di and pingala naa.di). They crisscross at periodic intervals along their pathway from tail to top, creating major cakras (energy spirals) wherever they cross.  Each level relates to a specific capacity in life:

  • Muulaadhaara (root) — below the tip of your tailbone; creates a clear sense of individual identity and freedom from fear; blockages create anxiety and fear.
  • Svaadishthaana (genital) — at the juncture of your tailbone and sacrum; creates a capacity for genuine intimacy (sexual and non-sexual); blockages create sexual neediness and codependency.
  • Manipuura (navel) — at the top of your sacrum; creates a capacity for decision and action in the world; blockages create a need for power and control.
  • Anaahata (heart) — at the level of your heart; creates a capacity to love and serve all; blockages create conditional love and clinging.
  • Vishuddha (throat) — at the level of your Adam’s apple; creates a capacity to express the light of consciousness through your words and actions; blockages create manipulative words and actions.
  • Aaj~naa (eyebrow)— in the center of your skull; creates a capacity to see the Divine in the mundane; blockages create doubt and mistrust.

Cakras are not as important as the media would make you think. There are many people who would love to balance your cakras for you, but your cakras don’t need the work. A cakra is a swirl of energy that comes from two or more naa.dis meeting at that point. If one of the naa.dis is not flowing properly, the energy doesn’t swirl properly.  Even if someone opens or balances your cakra for you, without a consistent energy supply from the naa.dis, it will simply shut down again.

Every Svaroopa® yoga class gives you a full naadi treatment, thus balancing all your cakras! From tail-to-top, you open your spine so your life energy is flowing smoothly. Your cakras will stay open and balanced for as long as your naa.dis stay open. Of course, relapse happens – but at least you know the poses to open up your naa.dis and cakras for yourself; you don’t have to rely on someone else to do it for you.

Different yoga styles take different approaches to working with your body, which Swami Nirmalananda honors when she says, “All yoga is good yoga!”  Some are athletic; some are gymnastic; some are aerobic; some are slower paced and self-directed; some have a more methodical approach. Svaroopa® yoga is “laser beam yoga.”  We use poses to target your spine, specifically su”sumnaa naa.di, and clear the blockages.  Your results come from the inside-out.

Even the bliss comes from the inside-out.  Contrast the bliss you experience after exercise or a fast-paced yoga class; that bliss is the bliss of exhaustion, or maybe the bliss of finally relaxing from all the effort you were putting forth, or it could even be the bliss of endorphins. These are wonderful things, but the bliss you experience at the end of a Svaroopa® yoga class is the bliss of Consciousness, an entirely different thing.  An extraordinary thing!

We call this “core opening.”  Grace turns it into a process of inner revelation. Svaroopa® yoga is “revelation yoga:” revealing your own Divinity within yourself.  This has always been the purpose of Svaroopa® yoga.  Core opening does this for every single person who gives it a try — it provides the experience of the bliss of your own Self.  This makes change come from the inside-out.  Do more Svaroopa® yoga.

Previously published July 2014

Relaxation & Stillness

by Vidyadevi Stillman & Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

It is a profound yogic accomplishment to still your body and your mind.  This is actually the purpose of all the poses and breathing practices — to give you the experience of perfect, ease-full stillness.  How peaceful!  How blissful!

In Shavasana, yoga’s relaxation pose, your body lies completely motionless, yet your mind can still be racing and your emotions churning.  We know that the first Shavasana in class is sometimes the hardest pose of your whole class.  You could be lying physically still because you don’t want to disturb your neighbors, but inside there is no stillness.  You have brought your body to a halt yet your inner speed continues.

From time to time this happens for anyone. Yet yoga says that if you just keep your body in stillness, your mind is going to slow down.

Sthira sukham aasanam — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.46

The (yoga) pose is motionless and easy.

While this sutra is really about the seated poses that lay the foundation for meditation, it applies to every yoga pose.  In every pose, you are looking for that point of sthira (absolute motionlessness) and sukha (complete ease).  When that happens, something more happens.  It is the “something more” of yoga that happens.  What this means is, just like the researcher said, “…your mind completely switches off.”  That is the beginning of everything!

Even when your first Shavasana is hard for you, your second Shavasana is quite different —  a little slice of heaven!  This is because all the other poses got you ready for Shavasana.  The ultimate purpose of all those other poses is to get you ready for the stillness and for what happens in that profound inner stillness.

While you may not always hear the words being said, our Guided Awareness in the final Shavasana ends with words that point you inward:

Being aware of your whole body…

or being aware of awareness itself…

or follow awareness into its source…

Rest in That.

That stillness and ease, which began with your body, gives you more, beginning with your mind becoming still.  This is not merely a deep relaxation of your body.  It’s not merely a respite from your thoughts and emotions. This is a tangible opening to something more, something greater, something more core to your being, something more essential — an opening to the something that is called your Essence.  It’s called svaroopa, your own Self.

Medical literature has been validating the health benefits of relaxation for 30 years or more.  All this research has helped to give yoga’s practices a respectable name in the scientific community, for which the yogis are grateful.  But consider this:  yoga was doing those practices long before science thought they were respectable.  Yoga has other practices that haven’t yet been documented by science. What might those practices do for you?

While science can tell us a little bit about the health benefits of deep relaxation, it hasn’t even begun to catch up with a yogi.  Every yogi who begins the science of yoga is doing a scientific exploration within the multidimensionality of her or his own being, using proven methodologies, every time they do their own yoga practice.  Do more Svaroopa® yoga.

Originally published January 2014

Krishna Avatar – Part 3

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Though Devaki’s seventh child was presumed dead in her womb, he had been transferred to Rohini’s womb in Vrindavan.  When born, he was called Balarama, Lord Vishnu’s eighth avatar.

Kamsa knew the prophesied eighth child was next.  Thinking that prevention is better than cure, he ordered Vasudeva and Devaki chained to different pillars of the dungeon so that they could not be with one another.  Kamsa was happy with his brilliant plan to stop the birth of the baby.  Vasudeva and Devaki were so heart broken.  They prayed to Lord Vishnu, as they didn’t have any way to bring the eighth child, who would end Kamsa’s tyranny.

By the grace of Lord Vishnu, Devaki became pregnant.  Kamsa was both upset and puzzled as how his plan didn’t work.  With the help of his guards, he’d been monitoring every move of Vasudeva and Devaki.  He was so worried that he ordered extra guards added so that he will be informed as soon as the eighth baby was born.  Thus he could kill that baby too and get rid of the threat that came from the voice from the sky.

At the same time, in Gokul, Yashoda was also pregnant.  Nanda and Yashoda were jubilant about expecting a child, as they had been childless for a very long time.  As planned by Lord Vishnu, he himself was growing in Devaki’s womb while Yoga Maya was growing in Yashoda’s womb.  Vasudeva and Devaki were worried, not only for their baby’s safety, but for the greater good of their kingdom.

ishtadevata.com

As she got closer to delivery, Lord Vishnu appeared to them, affirming he will be born as their eighth child.  He also revealed that this is the third time he is being born to them, according to their wishes from a previous birth.  He told them to take the baby to Gokul and switch him with Vasudeva’s friend’s (Nanda’s) baby.  Then he disappeared.

This brought great peace and joy to Vasudeva and Devaki.  Yet they wondered how to switch the babies while they were chained in the dungeon with all the added security around them.  Everyone has to have something to worry about at all times!

He was born on the eighth day of the waning moon, called the Krishna Paksha (dark side) Ashtami (eighth), in the lunar month of Shraavana (August-September), with the constellation of Rohini in the ascendant.  Late in the evening, the sky was dark due to it raining heavily with thunder and lightning.  Just before Devaki went into labor, all the guards fell asleep.

Devaki gave birth to a beautiful divine baby boy, who was as dark as the clouded sky and with beautiful curly hair.  As soon as this divine baby was born, the chains binding Vasudeva gave way and fell on the ground.  What a miracle!  The guards were asleep and Vasudeva was free.

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Though they didn’t want to part with the baby, Lord Vishnu’s command to switch the babies had to be obeyed.  With tears in her eyes, Devaki handed the baby over to Vasudeva.  As soon as he took the baby into his arms, the dungeon doors opened.  Putting the baby in a basket, he carried the basket on his head, right out of the dungeon.  He found the castle doors open.

It was so dark that Vasudeva couldn’t see the direction to go.  He looked up to the sky and another miracle occurred.  The clouds gave way for the moonlight to guide him, even in the midst of the thunderstorm.  Adhishesha, the five-headed serpent, immediately appeared and spread his hood over the basket, protecting the baby and Vasudeva from the gusty wind and heavy rain, doing his seva to his beloved Lord.

Vasudeva walked as fast as he could towards Gokul.  He came to the banks of the river Yamuna, flooded and flowing wildly due to the rain.  Vasudeva had to cross it.  Stepping into the river, he started across.  The water level rose higher and higher, up to Vasudeva’s nose, as though the river Yamuna was eager to touch the baby.  The baby put one of his feet out of the basket and touched the water; instantly the water level subsided.  The river Yamuna gave way, giving clear ground for Vasudeva to cross.

After walking for hours, Vasudeva reached Gokul.  When Vasudeva entered Gokul, everything stopped.  Nothing moved.  It was as though the universe had come to a standstill.  Vasudeva walked to Nanda and Yashoda’s home.  A baby girl lay next to Yashoda, who had been born at the same time Devaki had given birth.

Vasudeva switched the babies and carried Yashoda’s baby the same way he’d carried his own, on his head in the basket.  As soon as he left Gokul, everything was back to normal movement.  He was able to return to the dungeon before daybreak.  The doors remained open and the guards were still asleep.

As soon as he entered the dungeon, all the doors shut themselves.  Vasudeva gave Yashoda’s baby to Devaki.  The chains grabbed on to Vasudeva again.  Nothing looked changed.  All of what happened was incomprehensible to Vasudeva and Devaki, but they knew it was all Lord Vishnu’s doing.  They had a moment of relief when the baby started crying, which woke up the guards, startled from their slumber.  Not knowing what had transpired, one of them ran to Kamsa to inform him of the birth of Devaki’s eighth baby.

Kamsa jumped up from his bed and rushed to the dungeon.  He saw the baby next to his sister, Devaki.  Devaki screamed, begging for mercy, saying that it is a girl and not to kill her.  Neglecting Devaki, Kamsa picked the baby up by its leg as usual, laughing arrogantly.

ishtadevata.com

When Kamsa swung around to throw the baby into the dungeon wall, the baby (Yoga Maya) slipped out of his hands and appeared as a bright light in the sky.  With derisive laughter, she said, “Fool, you will not be able to kill me and even if you did, what is the use?  The one to kill you is safe elsewhere not too far from here.  You cannot escape from him, however mighty you may think you are!  The only reason I’m not killing you now, is due to you touching my feet.  Thus I bless you that the Lord himself will kill you.  It is so great to have the chance for this blessing!”

After saying this, Yoga Maya disappeared.  Kamsa was shaken to his core, unable to understand what had happened.  He returned to the castle, hearing his sister say that he cannot alter his fate however much he tries.  These words, reverberating in his ears, piercing his heart with guilt and sorrow, for torturing his sister and her husband.  Yet his arrogant mind won him over.

The whole town of Gokul was in joy, especially the delighted parents, Nanda and Yashoda.  No one knew how, what they thought was a baby girl the previous night, is actually a baby boy in the morning.  But no one cared and didn’t have the time to think about it, as the baby was with a smiley face, attractive radiant eyes and dark mesmerizing divine look.  For the dark complexion, the baby was named Krishna (Krishna = dark in Sanskrit).

The people in Gokul were cowherds.  Nanda was their leader.  They were so happy that their leader had a child to continue leading them.  They decorated the whole of Gokul with garlands and celebrated Krishna’s birth on a large scale.  From that day onward, the life of all the Gopiis (milkmaids) and Gopalas (cowherd boys) started revolving around Krishna, the divine baby.

Kamsa was very upset that he had been unable to kill Devaki’s eighth child.  He devised a plan to kill all the newborn babies who had been born in the month of Shraavana, so that Devaki’s son also will be killed.  He called upon a demoness called Putana to implement his plan.  Putana started her work, disguising herself as a noble lady, going around and poisoning all the babies born in the month of Shraavana.

This dreadful news reached Vasudeva’s ears.  Nanda, as one of the chiefs in Kamsa’s kingdom, came to pay his taxes in Mathura, the capital city.  Vasudeva took advantage of this opportunity to meet his dear friend Nanda.  After congratulating Nanda about his newborn, he also inquired about Balarama growing up in Gokul.  Then Vasudeva succeeded in warning Nanda about the danger to his newborn baby.  Hearing this, Nanda rushed back to Gokul right away, fearing for the safety of his beloved son.

Meanwhile, Putana entered Gokul.  It was the tenth day her search.  She heard about Nanda’s son, who perfectly fit the profile of who she needed to kill.  Looking to be a beautiful and charming lady, Putana comes to Yashoda’s house as a guest.  Yashoda and the other women in the house let her be in their midst.

Putana saw this most attractive, radiant baby in the cradle.  She started getting caught up in Krishna’s beauty when she remembered the orders of the cruel king, Kamsa.  Putana had come prepared, with poison to apply to her breasts in order to kill the baby.  This technique had worked on hundreds of babies around the area for the past ten days.

krishnasmercy.com

She took baby Krishna in her hands, kissing him, and put him to her breast.  Krishna suckled her life out of her.  Putana fell dead on the floor, revealing her true form as a demoness.  Her body was so huge, yet Krishna was smiling and playing on her lap.

The elder Gopiis immediately picked Krishna up from Putana’s lap, everyone amazed to see what had happened.  Nanda returned from Mathura just in time to see Putana’s body.  All thus knew that she was the rumored child-poisoning woman, roaming in the area and killing all the newborns.  They didn’t know how Putana was killed, but everyone was thankful and prayed to Lord Vishnu the savior for protecting their little Krishna.  They definitely knew that Krishna was not an ordinary child.

The people of Gokul cut Putana’s body into pieces and cremated it in a wood fire so that no one would know she’d died in Gokul.  She died at the hands of Krishna, so she was freed from her sins, completely purified.  The burning of her body parts produced an incense fragrance, as opposed to what everyone expected the smell to be.

Putana was missing in action, and Kamsa didn’t know what had happened.  He waited for her return for weeks, finally realizing she is no more and that his plan had failed.  Not knowing how and where Putana died, he was unable to find the eighth baby.  He continued with his atrocious activities against all the people, devising further plans to hunt and kill the eighth child of his sister.

Krishna with Mother Yashodha

More to come…

Opening Your Heart

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Vidyadevi Stillman

Some yoga poses are called “heart openers,” making people expect that they will become emotional.  Instead, when the pose is aligned and propped effectively, you get an inner opening to your deeper essence, called yoga’s heart.  Similarly, mantra repetition, chanting, sutra study and meditation do this work in you, especially once you have received Shaktipat.

Aasanastha.h sukha.m hrade nimajjati.  — “Siva Sutras 3.16

The yogi established in a steady posture easily becomes immersed in the heart.[1]

“Immersed in the heart” does not mean to be immersed in your physical heart or your emotional heart, but to be immersed in the heart of beingness.  It’s what yoga does for you – immerses you in the heart of your own beingness.  This is the essential part of every human being, that core essence that yoga names “svaroopa.”

Yet this sutra is not talking about heart opener poses.  This sutra promises that you can use your body to get to your own essence, but the pose you need is the seated pose.  This is a very important pose!  Your teacher emphasizes your ability to sit in a steady pose with a comfortably upright spine because, when you simply sit, you settle easily into your heart, svaroopa.  You sit in your own Self deeply.

This sutra says you don’t merely have an experience, like a glimpse of your Self, but that you become immersed in your heart.  It is not like you’ve gotten a little wet while walking in a rainstorm, so you come inside to get dry.  When you get “immersed,” it means you are always wet — saturated with your own essence, svaroopa.

Heart-full experiences are essential to life.  Without them, life has no meaning. You want to have the feeling of your heart being full in two ways, both being filled by others as well as overflowing with what you have to give.  The danger is that emotional fulfillment can become slavery’s ball and chain, or goad and whip — the ways that people try to limit and control others.  You already know what it is like to have others try to limit and control you, and you have returned the favor.  The problem is that you’ve been looking for the “filling up” or the “overflowing out.” Mistakenly, you call that love, when the inner reservoir is where the love is; the infinity of your own svaroopa is made of love – and more.

Vidyadevi tells of a longtime friend who got married, having already decided she did not want to have children.  Within her first year of marriage, she accidentally became pregnant.  She was deeply worried as she could not imagine how she was going to love this child, but of course she found that she had plenty of love.  A couple of years later, she found herself pregnant again.  When they talked, her friend shared that she loved her first child so much she didn’t think she had any more love to give.  Well, she found out that she could love both of her children fully.  A couple more years passed and she became pregnant with her third child.  Again she found that she could love all three with so much love.   Her love was endless for her children.  Consider, what if she had one or three more – could she love all of them?  What is the capacity of the human heart and where does this capacity come from?

“Hrade” in our sutra comes from the Sanskrit word “h.rd” meaning heart.  In this sutra, “heart” refers to the ocean of your own immortality.  Your heart doesn’t need filling.  It is already the ocean:  the ocean of your own immortality.  When you realize what is there in the core of your being you will recognize:

  1. That ocean is not yours: it is not yours to own, not yours to keep, not yours to control
  2. You are the beneficiary: the one that benefits the most is you, even when you draw from the bottomless depths to overflow onto others
  3. It will always be there: the fullness of that ocean will always be there, for you are the ocean of immortality.  You will always be there.  This is your own Self.

Perhaps now you can see that the amount that flows in and out is merely a trickle compared to what is already there.  Most people are measuring the flow and calling it love, but yoga shifts your attention to sitting in the presence and beingness of your own Self, which is the fullness of your own heart.   Your heart is everything you think it is, yet it is so much much more.  To explore the more, do more yoga.

Originally published February 2014

[1] Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Exploring Your Own Heart

by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati & Vidyadevi Stillman

Your heart is an essential and amazing part of your body.  It is a hard-working internal organ, pumping blood (containing oxygen, nutrients, hormones, etc.) to every cell of your body, including your skin, your muscles, your other organs and all the way into the cells in your bones. It beats 100,000 times a day, over 35 million times a year.  It began beating before you were born! Even if you’ve had some problems with your heart, it has worked for a long time and is continuing to serve you still.

You could even pause here to say thank you to your own heart.  Take a moment, a few breaths and say thank you to your own heart.  In that moment of gratitude, you might even feel a feeling in your heart, a tangible feeling inside.  Now you’re looking at another meaning of the word, “heart.”

In English, “heart” also refers to your emotional condition.   You talk about your heart when you’re having an emotional experience.  So many English idioms express this:  with all your heart, to take heart, the child won everyone’s heart, to have your heart set on something, to follow your heart… In everyday conversations, when you use the word “heart,” you are usually talking about love and emotions.  This means that heart is a very important part of life!

Yet the word “heart” also has a broader meaning, used when we are talking about:  the heart of the matter, let’s get to the heart of it, to put your heart into it.

Yoga teaches you to put your heart into whatever you are doing.  Even businesses want their employees to put their heart into their work.  They don’t want their employees to become emotional and “wear their heart on their sleeve”, but they want their employees to bring some core, some essence or some meaningful quality to their interactions with customers.   This is because, when you are a customer, you want the person who is helping you to truly care about helping you.   

Yoga’s vocabulary agrees with all these definitions of “heart” and more, describing the heart as a gateway to the essence of a human being.  Swami Nirmalananda describes it this way:

What is the essence that is found in every human heart?

What is it about a human being that, no matter who they are, where they have been and what they have done, that there is still some essence, an essence of vital importance?

Whether we consider convicted criminals on Death Row or a child who is lost in the woods, each one is important.

Each one is a human being.

Each one matters.

There is something in every human.

What do you call that essence, found in every human heart?

Finding this essence is yoga’s goal, clearly described by the sages in the core of yoga’s teachings, in the heart of yoga’s teachings:

Aasanastha.h sukha.m hrade nimajjati.  — “Siva Sutras 3.16

The yogi established in a steady posture easily becomes immersed in the heart.[1]

“Immersed in the heart” does not mean to be immersed in your physical heart or your emotional heart, but to be immersed in the heart of beingness.  It’s what yoga does for you – immerses you in the heart of your own beingness.  This is the essential part of every human being, that core essence that yoga names “svaroopa.”

Originally published February 2014

[1] Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Relaxing Your Body & Mind

by Vidyadevi Stillman &
Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

It is quite an accomplishment when you still your body and your mind!  In every Svaroopa® yoga class, we begin with Shavasana and the Guided Awareness.  You can make your body lie completely motionless, yet your mind is racing and your emotions churning.  We know that sometimes the first Shavasana is the hardest pose of your whole class.

You could be lying physically still because you don’t want to disturb your neighbors, but inside there is no stillness.  You have brought your body to a halt yet your inner speed continues.   From time to time this happens for anyone. Yet yoga says that if you just keep your body in stillness, your mind is going to slow down.

Sthira sukham aasanam — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.46

The (yoga) pose is motionless and easy.

While this sutra is really about the seated poses that lay the foundation for meditation, it applies to every yoga pose.  In every pose, you are looking for that point of sthira (absolute motionlessness) and sukha (complete ease).  When that happens, something more happens.  It is the “something more” of yoga that happens.  What this means is, just like the researcher said, “…your mind completely switches off.”  That is the beginning of everything!

Even when your first Shavasana is hard for you, your second Shavasana is quite different —  a little slice of heaven!  This is because all the other poses got you ready for Shavasana.  The ultimate purpose of all those other poses is to get you ready for the stillness and for what happens in that profound inner stillness.

While you may not always hear the words being said, our Guided Awareness in the final Shavasana ends with words that point you inward:

Being aware of your whole body…

or being aware of awareness itself…

or follow awareness into its source…

Rest in That.

That stillness and ease, which began with your body, gives you more, beginning with your mind becoming still.  This is not merely a deep relaxation of your body.  It’s not merely a respite from your thoughts and emotions. This is a tangible opening to something more, something greater, something more core to your being, something more essential — an opening to the something that is called your Essence.  It’s called svaroopa, your own Self.

Medical literature has been validating the health benefits of relaxation for 30 years or more.  All this research has helped to give yoga’s practices a respectable name in the scientific community, for which the yogis are grateful.  But consider this:  yoga was doing those practices long before science thought they were respectable.  Yoga has other practices that haven’t yet been documented by science. What might those practices do for you?

While science can tell us a little bit about the health benefits of deep relaxation, it hasn’t even begun to catch up with a yogi.  Every yogi who begins the science of yoga is doing a scientific exploration within the multidimensionality of her or his own being, using proven methodologies, every time they do their own yoga practice.  Do more yoga.

Published January 2014

Krishna Avatar – Part 2

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

The asuras (demons) and their descendants were taking over the earth, harming the good, righteous, virtuous people and influencing others to harmful deeds.  The earth was not in a good state: the people were in turmoil all the time, fighting with each other, using devastating weapons that harmed Bhudevi (Mother Earth).  She couldn’t bear the devastations so She sought help from Lord Brahma.

She went to Brahmaloka and stood in front of Lord Brahma with flowing tears and deep sorrow.  Lord Brahma was deeply touched and decided to escalate the issue to Lord Vishnu, who is the savior of the three worlds.  Together with Bhudevi and all the devas (Gods), Brahma went to Vaikuntha seeking help from Lord Vishnu.

While the others were praying and singing to Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma was meditating.  He received a message through his heart and shared it with all.  The message from Lord Vishnu was that He would be born into Yadu Kula (the Yadava clan), to save the world from the evil which prevailed on Earth.  He also commanded the devas to be born into Yadu Kula,  Also, Adishesha (the five-headed snake, the part of Lord Vishnu serving him as his bed) will join him as his elder brother.  And his Shakti Maya, Lakshmi, will also have a role in this incarnation.  After revealing this information to the devas and Bhudevi, thus calming them down, Lord Brahma returned to Brahmaloka.

Here on earth at that time, king Ugrasena ruled Mathura, one of the leading cities.  Belonging to the Bhoja Vamsa (family), he had a son and two daughters.  Though Ugrasena was a very kind-hearted king, his son Kamsa was a cruel ill-natured prince.  Yet Kamsa’s sister Devaki devoted her life to the worship of Lord Vishnu.  When she came of age, her father arranged her to marry Vasudeva, a Yadu Kula prince, son of King Surasena.  [Please note that the name Vasudeva differs from Vaasudeva, a name for Lord Vishnu, often used to address Krishna.]

It was a splendid wedding, the two kulas coming together as one.  On the day when the newlyweds departed from Mathura to go Vasudeva’s kingdom, Kamsa himself offered to drive the chariot, as it’s the tradition for the brothers to go with the sister to her new home.  Many golden chariots were following the hundreds of elephants, horses, maids, etc.  While this wonderful procession was going on, all of a sudden, a thundering voice from the sky startled everyone.  It said, “Kamsa, you fool!  You are innocently serving them your sister, yet her eighth son is going to be the cause of your death.  He will kill you.”

Being cruel by nature, Kamsa immediately drew his sword to kill Devaki.  Vasudeva, shocked by this action, jumped in front to protect Devaki.  Being a wise person, Vasudeva decided to handle this situation with intellect.  He told Kamsa, “Devaki is not the threat.  Killing your newlywed sister is going to bring you a lot of karmic repercussions.  All you want are her children, so I promise you that I would deliver them to you when they are born.”

Though he was already mourning his unborn children, even hoping it wouldn’t happen, Vasudeva said this to save his wife from the heartless Kamsa.  Kamsa was somehow convinced by Vasudeva’s words and let them go.  Vasudeva quietly went home with his wife, having succeeded in putting off the danger.

Maharishi Narada was watching all this drama, not too happy about the postponing of Lord Vishnu’s avatar, so he decided to visit Kamsa in order to provoke him into action sooner.  As everyone knows, Narada makes a lot of trouble, but always for the greater good of the world.  All the mischief and trouble he causes, at the end always brings happiness to the world.

Narada planted seeds of fear in Kamsa, saying he’d made a bad decision that in letting Vasudeva and Devaki go, trusting them to deliver their children.  He also revealed Lord Brahma’s plan, including about the devas being born into Yadu families, and anxiously awaiting and preparing themselves to protect Devaki’s eighth child, who will be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  Upon receiving this news, Kamsa wanted to imprison Vasudeva and Devaki.  His father, Ugrasena, objected, so Kamsa overpowered him, imprisoning him and taking over the kingdom.

Kamsa pronounced himself as the king of Yadu, Bhoja and Anthaka clans.  Then he imprisoned Vasudeva and Devaki in the dungeon.  Thereafter Kamsa’s tyranny threatened all, even including the sages.  Especially he targeted the Yadu Clan people, harming them and making them flee into other cities and villages, living in exile, disguised, hiding from the tyrant.

Devaki gave birth to her first child.  The guards informed Kamsa who came to the dungeon.  Even though he knew that only the eighth son is his enemy, Kamsa, being a oppressor, decided to kill all of Devaki’s children, afraid that they may be Lord Vishnu’s avatars.  As Devaki cried out for sympathy, Kamsa took the newborn baby by his feet and throws him towards a dungeon rock wall, killing the baby instantly.  Laughing arrogantly, Kamsa returned to his palace, above the dungeon.

There was nothing Vasudeva could do, but to console his wife and give her courage.  An year passed, the second child was born and Vasudeva and Devaki faced the same fate.  This cruel act of Kamsa continued with each child until the sixth.  The people spoke in hushed tones, afraid about this evil deed of their king.  Even the relatives and friends of Kamsa couldn’t stop him, so they ended up praising him, afraid for their own life and position.

It was time.  Lord Vishnu ordered Adishesha to be born as Devaki’s seventh child.  Devaki could tell that this child was different and was more scared for the safety of the child.  Yet she knew that, without help from Lord Vishnu, the fate of the child could not be changed.

Lord Vishnu called upon Yoga Maya, the Shakti of the universe, asking her to transfer the embryo in Devaki’s womb to Rohini, another of Vasudeva’s wives, who was secretly living with her sister’s family in Vrindavan.  Revealing his plan to be born as Devaki’s eighth son, he also wanted Yoga Maya to be born at the same time, in Vrindavan, as the daughter of Queen Yashoda, the wife of Maharaj Nanda, head of cowherds.  Hearing this from Lord Vishnu, Yoga Maya executed the command by switching the unborn child from Devaki’s womb to Rohini’s.

Thus Devaki’s seventh child was presumed dead in her womb and Kamsa was blamed for harassing her into this state.  Kamsa didn’t care about the blame; he was happy that the seventh child was dead, not knowing what really transpired.  Devaki was in a lot of grief and worry, not only due to losing her seventh child, but also thinking of how she was going to save the eight child, so he could save the world from her tyrant brother.

In Vrindavan, Rohini gave birth to a son, an incarnation of the powerful Adhishesha, all by the grace of Yoga Maya.  Gargamuni, their family priest, secretly performed the rituals for the newborn baby, naming him “Rama,” and adding “Bala” to his name, predicting his extraordinary strength and valor.  Thus he was called Balarama.  Lord Vishnu’s eighth avatar had taken place, Adishesha being part of the Lord himself.  Balarama was growing up in Virindavan, expecting Lord Vishnu to arrive soon.