More Joyous

by Gurudevi Nirmalananda  & Swami Shrutananda (the yogi formerly known as Vidyadevi)

It’s the season of joy!  Our year-end holidays, with the decorations, music, gifts, special foods, family and friends, makes this a joyous time for so many people.  Yet for others this is a time of stress, anxiety or unhappiness, and the knowing that their expectations or hopes of joy can’t be fulfilled.

The problem is that the percentage of your life during which you experience joy is too low.  Even when you feel such joy, it is too short because the situation you depend on for your joy doesn’t last.   You invest so much time and energy trying to create certain circumstances, ones that will make you more joyous.  But it doesn’t last because you’re looking for the joy to come from outside.

The yogic sage Shankaracharya said, in his text titled Vivekachudamani,

“…your own innermost Self [is] the ceaseless joy within you.”

This means you have the capacity to experience “ceaseless joy” within.  Instead, you settle for only periodic joy.  Life really is about joy.  Being more joyous is THE measure for quality of life.  The problem is that you’re dependent on unpredictable externals to trigger joy for you.  You’re not getting it from your “innermost Self.”  But you can.

You can go a yoga class when you are not feeling joyous at all and you’ll feel different at the end. If a researcher gave you a psychology self-assessment test before class, you might be at 40% or 62%; the test at the end would show you higher, maybe 78% or even 90%.  If you have been looking for yoga to make you more joyous, this is a sign of your intelligence.

Shankaracharya warns,

“The true nature of your own Self is extremely subtle. It cannot be perceived by the mind, due to the density of which the mind is made. It is known in your inner state of absorption, which is attained by plunging inside. Plunge deep within your own being to know your own Self as Consciousness-Itself. Allow yourself to know and to be that which you already are.”

You already have these deep inner experiences in Svaroopa® yoga classes, in your own home practice and especially in Svaroopa® Vidya meditation. By plunging deep within, having the inner experience of the extremely subtle reality within, you know that which you already are, your own Self as Consciousness-Itself.

You already rely on yoga to make you more joyous.  Svaroopa® yoga reliably gives you your own Self.  When you lose your Self, simply do more yoga and meditation.  If it worked before, it will work again.  It will give you what Shankaracharya promises,

“At this innermost level, you never cease to experience infinite joy.”

This is the way a yogi lives in the world.  What a way to live!

Do more yoga.


Originally published November 2014

Use Everything as a Reminder

By Gurudevi Nirmalananda

I found myself singing along with the music as I stood in line at Starbucks, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la, La la, la la.”  I love the decorated shop windows and the little huts going up in the shopping malls — “Santa Claus is coming to town…”  This is a joyous season, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.  At the same time, this is the most stressful time of the year, and a time when more people commit suicide than any other.

Two people can walk down the same sidewalk, passing by the lights and decorations on every side, and have two different experiences.  This is because it doesn’t matter what you are looking at on the outside — it is what you are looking at on the inside that matters.  The lights, decorations and music are all reminders, but what they remind you of is different for every person.

One person is reminded of all the people she still has to buy gifts for, and how limited her budget is.

Another is reminded of the upcoming visit to his extended family, and is looking forward to the reunion with great joy.  Yet another dreads the family scene/  These two people can even belong to the same family!

Someone else is reminded of so many joy-filled Christmas mornings and is delighted to be creating the same for her own children or for a family whose name she got from a list at the local homeless shelter.

One person will look at all the happy shoppers and be reminded of all the poverty and injustice in the world.  She may donate her time or shopping money to an organization that is working in these worthwhile arenas, or she might just complain about life.

There are many people who see every decoration as a reminder of the Divine Birth they celebrate from 2,000 years ago.

Some are reminded that they don’t celebrate Christmas because their religion is different than mainstream America.  Some of these people like being different.  Others want mainstream America to approve of them.

Some people use the joyfulness of the season to remind themselves of all the reasons they are not joyful, whether it is the problems of their life right now or the history of their life so far.

Where your mind goes is personal to you, but it determines how your entire holiday season goes.  Your inner reality is so much stronger than the outer environment.  Yoga says, “Look deeper!  Look within and see that you are Divine Consciousness.”

A yogi uses every event as a reminder to look within.  Everything in the world is used as a reminder of consciousness.  Consciousness has become all that exists, and you can see this.  There is an inner dimension that far transcends the outer events.  Whatever you see, and whatever you do, say or think is an opportunity to recognize the divine within the mundane.  This includes the holiday decorations along with the traffic jams.  It includes the garbage that needs to be taken out, the ringing of the alarm clock, the errands to be run, and the smile of a child sitting in Santa’s lap, as well as the tears of another child who is afraid to sit up there.  This is true, not just for five or six weeks at the end of every year, but in every moment of every day, all year long — every year.

Along the way, you can use everything as a reminder to look at consciousness.  The One Divine Reality has become everything that exists, and you can see this (or remember this) in every moment.  You must learn to see it.  Without being able to see the divine in everything, you live like a thirsty man in a desert, looking everywhere for water and never finding it.  Instead, everything in life is a reminder of consciousness — just look again.  Look past your reactions and see the divine in everything.  Start with your Self.

Originally published December 2003

Beyond Instinct

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Animals are ruled by their instincts. As a human, your body has physical instincts as part of your basic equipment.  These instincts can lead you to eat too much, sleep too much, measure your worth by what you own, and seek love through sexuality.  This lifestyle will never be fulfilling because it is impossible to fulfill all of your instinctual cravings.  There’s a demon inside who always wants more.  You have to choose: are you going to experience and express your divine qualities or will your instincts lead the way?

While philosophers question what the human being is, yogis ask a different question: How do I become fully human?  The answer is that you must utilize the human specialty fully: cultivate your awareness.  As you explore your ability to be aware, you discover that awareness is more powerful than instinct.  It’s quite easy to do.  Here’s how: When instinct wants to take over, expand your awareness.  Instinct makes you Velcro your awareness to a single thing.  All you have to do is expand your awareness.

As an example, let’s consider a plate of cupcakes, the newest culinary trend.  When you focus on the specific cupcake you want, Velcro takes over your mind.  But if you expand your visual focus, like widening a camera lens, you see the whole plate.  Now you will want to offer your compliments to the baker.

Continue expanding your awareness.  Breathe and expand your gaze wider, and you will see the other people enjoying the yummies, Now your heart opens a little more, not only to the baker but to all those who are enjoying her wares.

Continue breathing and expand to see the room you are all in, with your host (yourself, a neighbor, the bakery or the yoga studio) giving generously of their facility and time.  You can keep expanding your awareness to include the city, state, region and whole country you are in.  You can include all the family members of the people present, and the generations that preceded and will follow them.

Now your instincts no longer pull you to the cupcake.  You may still choose to take one, if you like.  Yet your experience is now completely different because you are more aware.  The cupcake will even taste better, but that is not the point.

As you become more aware, you become more fully human.  As you become more fully human, you become more fully divine.  Your own divine essence shines through you because it is you.  While the divine is present in everything that exists, the human being has the capacity to experience it most fully.  You are the human who can experience and express the divine fully.  That’s what this human life is for.

Here are some of your divine qualities from Krishna’s list in the Bhagavadgita.  There are probably no surprises here.  You like yourself better when you live this way.


vigor, fortitude

generous nature

straightforward, speaking only truth

absence of anger, hatred and pride

freedom from need, greed and fear

peacefulness, gentleness, compassion

You must intentionally cultivate your divine qualities.  Instincts are seductive, but the light of your divinity is even more powerful, if you choose to follow it.  The key is choice.  In every moment, you have the ability to choose what kind of human you are being.

Originally published July 2010

What is Unique to the Human Being?

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Echoing through the ages, the question continues to arise:  what is a human being?  Considered by the ancient Greeks and by many philosophers and priests since, the question is now being explored in modern media through comparison with vampires, werewolves and zombies.  While movies and TV shows are pursuing a lucrative theme, they are also offering a modern-day version of Krishna’s discourse in Chapter 16 of the Bhagavadgita, which is subtitled “The Divine and Demoniacal.”  Krishna expounds on your innate divinity and how to fulfill the purpose of your life for 15  chapters, and then clarifies that the human being is a mix of divine and demoniacal qualities.  You have to decide which qualities you will express in your life.

Yoga’s sages described that every species has a unique quality.  They said that the bee has the most sophisticated sense of smell, with modern-day scientists now agreeing.  The sages described the deer as specializing in sound and being very responsive to music, but scientists haven’t investigated this yet.  The elephant has the most sensitive sense of touch, which is why they throw dirt on their backs as a sunscreen.  If you have seen a baby elephant being massaged and cradled by its mothers and aunts, you understand how powerful their sense of touch is.  In my early years of study with my Guru, Vijayananda, the Ashram elephant, visited the courtyard every day.  Baba fed him chapattis (wheat tortillas), sugar cane and chocolates, ending the visit with an oil massage.  One of the attendants would lean a ladder against his side, climb up and spread essential oils all over his back, taking the time to rub the oils in.  It was amazing to watch Vijayananda’s eyes; clearly he was in bliss.

What is the unique characteristic of the human being?  As a human being, you have an innate capacity to be aware, a capacity shared by no other creature.  You are not merely aware, you are aware that you are aware.  You know that you know; you see that you see; you think that you think.  While your mind is very powerful, you are more than your mind — and you know it.  You are awareness itself; your own Self is Consciousness-Itself.

Yet you have an ability to lose it.  You can lose track of this great capacity in the blink of an eye.  You get lost in things, in events, in situations and in other people.  When you get lost in anything, it is your Self that you are losing.  As a human, you have both divine and demoniacal qualities, so you must choose what you are doing with them.

To understand the choices before you, you must first understand what the divine and the demoniacal are.  Yoga’s cosmology describes multiple planes of existence, including the three worlds:  this physical realm, the celestial sphere and the nether world.  The celestial realm abounds with devas and devis (divine beings, male and female), plus apsaras, gandharvas, angels, cherubim, seraphim and more.  Their bodies are made of light and they sip amrit, the nectar of immortality.

The nether realm is populated with demons — but they are not evil beings.  They are beautiful beings, with powerful bodies and huge sensual appetites.  They base their life and being on their instinctual drives.  Their primary motivations are power and pleasure, and anything that helps them satisfy these impulses is pursued with a single-minded focus, regardless of how it affects others.  Demons are selfish, self-centered, and unrestrained in their appetites, but they are not evil.  This is an important distinction.

Yoga’s cosmology says that evil does not exist.  There is no devil; there is no evil force tempting you; you have no evil hidden within you.  Instead, this is a cause-and-effect universe.  You choose to shine with the light of your own divinity, or you hide it with the shadows you create in your mind.  You must choose where to live — in the light or the shadows.  The most powerful tool you have is your power of choice.

Many of yoga’s practices address this predicament directly.  For example, when you choose to practice ahimsa, non-harming, you choose to resist the inner impulse to cause pain to others.   The impulse arises in every human; it is one of the demoniacal qualities that Krishna warns about.  To understand it more clearly, don’t call it “demoniacal,” but label it with a simpler name — “instinctual.”  Your instincts tell you to lash out, to get back, or to get even or to get ahead.  You must not follow your instincts.

Instead, look to a higher quality that is already there within you, a divine quality.  Find the empathy, love or compassion that makes you able to give another person some breathing space.  Or you can look for an intelligent way to handle yourself in a difficult situation.  Most importantly, you can find a way to remain peaceful inside, which makes you able to make better choices and follow through on them.

You must intentionally cultivate your divine qualities.  Yoga gives you the ability to make an intelligent choice, an inspired choice.  In every moment, you have the ability to choose what kind of human you are being.


Originally published July 2010

Krishna Avatar – Part 6

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Krishna and Balarama were growing up.  Krishna was so good a flutist, everyone was mesmerized by the music and sat listening to it for hours and hours.  Not only the people of Vrindavan, but also the birds and animals went through the same experience.  Both his father and mother, King Nanda and Yashoda, were so proud of their son, not really knowing who Krishna was.  Of course, if he had a flute in his hands, who would not experience a blissful state?

One day, taking the calves out for grazing, Krishna and the gopalas went along the Yamuna River to where a multi-hooded black serpent, Kaliya, lived with his family.  Kaliya previously lived near the banks of Ramanaka Dvipa, but had been chased away by Garuda, the king of the eagles, because Kaliya had been polluting the waters with its venom.

Now Kaliya was poisoning the Yamuna waters, knowing that Garuda wouldn’t come there due to a curse by Saubhari Muni.  Kaliya’s poison contaminated not only the waters, but also spread miles around, even polluting the air such that flying birds would fall unconscious or dead to the ground.  No one from Vrindavan went to the vicinity of Yamuna where Kaliya lived.

Reaching there, the boys were very tired and desperately thirsty.  They drank the poisoned water from Yamuna and fell unconscious on the riverbank.  Seeing this, Krishna immediately revived them with his divine powers and decided that Kaliya must be stopped.

Krishna climbed one of the largest trees on Yamuna’s bank and jumped into the middle of the poisoned body of water. His huge splash woke Kaliya, who started searching for the intruder.  Finding Krishna, Kaliya slithered near, furious that Krishna had entered its territory and disturbed its rest.  Not knowing who Krishna was nor his intentions, Kaliya ferociously attacked Krishna.

Krishna’s friends on the shore, except for Balarama, were terrified.  Some of them ran back to Vrindavan for help. The ones who ran back informed King Nanda and Yashoda about what was happening at the riverbank.  The whole of Vrindavan quickly followed King Nanda and Yashoda to gather where Krishna and Kaliya were fighting.

When they arrived, Kaliya had grabbed Krishna in his mighty coils and was squeezing him hard.  While Krishna was calmly watching what was happening from within the coils, the villagers were trying to figure out a plan to help Krishna.  On seeing this, as usual, Yashoda fainted, screaming her son’s name, ”Krishna!  Krishna!  Krishna!“

Balarama was enjoying the show, laughing inside because knew exactly what was going to happen.  When King Nanda was preparing to jump into the river, Balarama calmly restrained him and others from going in.  Then he attended to Mother Yashoda.

Krishna had been in Kaliya’s grip for a long time, though Kaliya was not able to crush Krishna.  Yet the villagers were in distress.  Deciding to relieve them from the distress, with one push Krishna came out of Kaliya’s grip.  This enraged Kaliya, as no one had ever escaped his coils, so he tried to sink his fangs into Krishna.

Kaliya spat poison all over Krishna, who was evading all the snake’s attacks.  The battle went on for a long time, above and under water.  While Krishna was having fun, the villagers were highly tense, but Balarama was enjoying the show.

After a while, Krishna jumped on top of one of Kaliya’s hoods and started dancing, embossing his feet on the snake’s hood.  Krishna moved from one hood to another, making Kaliya spit out all the venom and some blood too.  Krishna made sure that Kaliya didn’t have any venom left to harm anyone.  While on the snake’s hood, Krishna started to dance and play his flute with a blissful melodious sound.  Everyone could see this dance from the river bank, all puzzled about how this was possible.

The serpent got weaker and weaker, losing all his venom and energy.  He was at the verge of losing his life, so all of Kaliya’s wives prayed to Krishna to let their husband live.  They bowed to Krishna.  Krishna stopped his dance, with Kaliya barely conscious.  He ordered Kaliya and his family to leave Vrindavan, never to return to the vicinity.  He also commanded them to return to Ramanaka Dvipa, promising that Garuda will not hurt Kaliya due to Krishna’s footprints embossed on Kaliya’s head.

After gaining full consciousness, Kaliya complied with Krishna’s command, promising never to attack anyone, and returning to Ramanaka Dvipa with his family.  No one knew of the conversations between Krishna, Kaliya and his family, but everyone was relieved that Krishna was safe and Kaliya was gone.  Yashoda was the happiest!  Balarama was the only one smiling and calm through what was going on.  Since that day, that portion of the Yamuna was back to its original beauty and resourceful state.

It was already night.  The villagers of Vrindavan were all very tired from witnessing the long fight between Krishna and Kaliya as well as Krishna’s divine dance.  Their day had been filled with intense emotion and they had little energy to walk back to their village. The cows were hungry and tired too.  So, they decided to spend the night on the Yamuna riverbank.  King Nanda was worried about Krishna, thinking he may have been poisoned by Kaliya, so he wanted to keep an eye on him.

While they were sleeping, a great forest fire broke out.  It spread quickly due to strong winds. When the villagers felt the heat of the fire, they woke up and cried out for help. Hearing their cries, Krishna immediately opened his mouth very wide.  With one gulp, he swallowed the whole forest fire, saving all the villagers and their cows once again, as always the Lord protects his true devotees. Krishna was taken in grand procession back to Vrindavan by his friends, parents and villagers singing and rejoicing his victory and safe return.

King Kamsa was very tired of losing all his demons to Krishna.  He called the strongest demon he knew, Pralambasura, ordering him to kill Krishna.  They devised a plan to separate Krishna and Balarama, as it would be easier to kill them one by one.  Pralambasura waited for Krishna and the children in the area for few days.

One evening, Krishna, Balarama and their friends were playing in the meadow while the cows and calves were grazing.  Soft breezes carried the fragrance of the flowers over the meadow, through the forest and into the whole area of Vrindavan. The boys played different games each day, like hide and seek, tag, swinging under the trees, wrestling, and sometimes they would innovate new games as well.  They would dance while Krishna played the flute, or they admired Krishna’s dancing while they sang and clapped.

That particular day was hot and sunny, so they went deep into the shade of the forest, staying cool under the trees.  Pralambasura disguised himself as a boy and went toward the children.  He hid behind the trees. waiting for a good opportunity. Krishna saw him, a boy hiding behind a tree, and realized it was a demon in disguise.  Of course, Lord Krishna knows all things, including past, present and future, so he recognized the boy as Pralambasura.

Krishna invited the disguised Pralambasura to play with him and the gopalas.  He proposed they play tug-of-war, dividing them into two teams.  The losers were supposed to carry the winners back to the village when it was time to return.  Everyone liked the idea of a joy ride, hoping their team gets to win.  With Balarama on one side and Krishna on the other, Pralambasura joined Krishna’s team.   Pralambasura, as the boy, thought that his plan was working, that Krishna was so stupid as to invite him to play with him.

The tug-of-war ended with Balarama’s team winning.  Pralambasura devised the brilliant idea to carry Balarama away, he can deal with him first. He offered to carry Balarama back to the village while the other losing team members carried the winners.  As they started running, Pralambasura lagged and strayed, taking Balarama deeper into the forest, going in a different direction than the village.  Slowly Pralambasura shed the boy’s body, taking on his real form, hurrying to take Balarama away in order to kill him.

When Balarama identified that he was riding on a demon, he shouted, “I am being carried by a demon in the opposite direction of where my friends are headed.”  Krishna heard him and understood that Balarama wanted Krishna to stay with their friends and take care of them.  Their friends were worried that a demon had taken Balarama.  Krishna told them that he was worried too, but not about Balarama.  Krishna was worried about the fate of the demon.

Krishna was right; Balarama fearlessly began to strike Pralambasura. First Balarama tightened his legs around the demon’s neck, strangling him.  Then Balarama used his mighty fist to land a single blow on the demon’s head. The demon let out a fierce roar and fell to the ground, dead.

The loud sound was heard miles away. Balarama came dancing towards his friends. The gopalas embraced Balarama with great affection and began to praise him.  With his divine smile, Krishna stood looking at his beloved brother.  Pretty soon, all of Vrindavan resounded with the tale of Balarama’s strength.  His foster father, Nanda, remembered why he was named “Bala” Rama and Garga Muni predicting his extraordinary strength and valor at the naming ceremony   Kamsa had failed again.

Flowing with Life

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Flow is a technical term in yoga.  It’s not about moving your body.  Instead it’s about living in a continuous ecstatic state called “turiya” in Sanskrit.  This is one of these words that have no exact equivalent in English, because it names something that we simply don’t discuss in our everyday use of the English language.  Translated as “the fourth state,” it names a level of inner experience that is deeper than thought.  It is the constant background of beingness, just behind where you usually find your mind.

It is called the fourth state because there are three others:  waking, dream and deep sleep.  Everyone knows these three states, cycling between them 24/7.  But even while you are awake, there is this deeper level of knowingness and beingness inside.  Even when you are dreaming, and even when you are sleeping, there is this deeper level of your own existence.

You already know this because you have experienced this before.  Have you ever had a dream that you knew you were dreaming while you were dreaming?  Or maybe you had a time that you knew you were sleeping while you were asleep.  Who’s the you that knew you were sleeping or dreaming?  This is the you that is your real essence – svaroopa, atman, Self, divine essence, svaroopa, Shiva.  It’s there now.  You are there now.  You are here, now.  You are Shiva.

Maybe you have experienced your own Self in Shavasana. While your teacher was guiding you through your awareness of each area of your body, you were deeper in there, somewhere in there.  Maybe you could hear her or his words, or maybe not.  But you were deeper, and you knew it.  Or maybe you were deeper and you didn’t know it until you “bobbed” out, and then you wanted to go back to where you had been – even though you didn’t know where it was, or how to get back.  But you knew it was good.  Really really good.

That’s the Self.  That’s your own Divine Essence.  That’s Shiva.  Unfortunately your ability to know your Self at this level is currently limited.  Your access is short-lived and too infrequent.  That’s why yoga has practices:  to prepare you to dive deeper, stay longer, and ultimately to live from this level of your own beingness.

When you experience the fourth state while you are awake, you are living in a fluidity that pervades all of existence.  My Guru described it like water mixed with milk.  Just as the water mixed with the milk pervades it thoroughly, consciousness pervades all that exists.  When you know your own Self as consciousness, you see and experience it pervading all, becoming all, being all – inside and outside, all at the same time.

Then every moment of life is lived in the flow.  There’s no need to control, because life is always going the right way, whether your mind understands it or not.  Thus there’s never a need for you to object to how things are going.  Still you must participate in life.  You are alive, so you must participate.

How do you participate without trying to control?  You simply let go of your objections.  Whether you relax your body (a mini-Shavasana), or you use a few Ujjayi breaths, or you repeat mantra or say a prayer – accept that whatever is going on is reality.  Whatever is going on is going on.  Once you quit objecting, you see it more clearly and you can make better decisions about what to do.  You can even do whatever you do more effectively, and it works better.

It’s like when you make a wrong turn on a road trip.  After driving for some time, you realize you’re in the wrong place and going the wrong direction.  Complaining about it doesn’t get you to your destination.  First you stop.  Secondly you find out where you are.  Now you decide which route to take – to backtrack to where you should have turned, or to find a new route there.  Life is like this.

Life is like this because of the cause-and-effect nature of the universe.  The ancient texts describe that Shiva created the universe with certain built-in qualities and functions.  The parameters include gravity, light, love, the multiplicity of forms, the infinite hidden within each finite form, and cause-and-effect (called karma in Sanskrit), as well as others.

Whatever you do has an effect, whether it is an action, a word that you speak or even a thought.  Yes your thoughts have an effect, mainly on you.  Your thoughts, words and actions produce results, though not always immediately.  Every action you perform and every word  you say creates a result at some point, either now or in the future.  Every thought you think creates a result at some point, either now or in the future.   Another reason to cultivate a quiet mind!

Those boulders in your river, the ones that disturb the smooth flow of your life – you put them there.  They are your karma.  You cannot give credit for your karma to anyone else:  not your parents, not your boss, not society nor even your DNA.  Everything you have to face in life is the result of some prior action, word or thought, in this lifetime or even in previous lifetimes.  You have only yourself to thank.  So there’s no point in objecting.  Every rock in your river is a gift you gave yourself.

Go with the flow.  Lean back and soften into the moment.  Lean back in your own body and soften into your life.  Lean back behind your mind and find that deeper level of your own being, so you can see the flow pervading all that exists and recognize it for what it is – the Divine Reality, which is you.  Do more yoga.

Originally published May 2010

Go With the Flow

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

A yogini told me about her family vacation several years ago, a week-long river rafting trip.  Her father had worked for two years to get rare reservations for this special trip plus assembling all his children and grandchildren for a great adventure.  They had a great time, all the way through the last rapids of the trip, where the guides checked all the straps on everyone’s life jackets, and then told them they would be running the rapids without the raft.

Assuring them that it was safe, and that they had done this with hundreds of people, they gave the secret teaching that would make it work.  “As the water swirls you right into a big rock, just relax.  It will swirl you up and over the rock and you won’t get any scrapes or bruises.”  Our yogini repeated a mantra of her own devising through her whole ride, “Shavasana, Shavasana.”  She was the only one who emerged with no scrapes or bruises.  Laughing.  Victorious.  Ecstatic.

Go with the flow.  This means is that control is an illusion.  You are not in control, no matter how hard you try to be.  Life is actually not about control.  If it was, and if you really could control everything, you’d never laugh.  You’d never love.  You’d never be ecstatic.  You have to give into the flow in order to laugh and in order to love.  You have to flow with the river in order to experience the bliss.

Life is a lot like that river.  Some sections are smooth and idyllic, and others have big boulders and churning water.  While you’re not in control, you still must understand the cause-and-effect nature of the universe, just like the river guides who paddle in just the right places and who use their paddle to steer the boat in others.  That’s not control.  That’s intelligence.

You must learn to use your intelligence in a different way than you have been.  You have been using it to try to get what you want, or to impress others, or to learn more and more stuff that fills your head with more and more thoughts, which make you more and more unhappy.  Thoughts do make you unhappy.  Just watch your mind for a few minutes and you’ll realize it.  This is why yoga focuses on quieting your mind.  This is also why we love rivers, because watching one, or even rafting on one, has a wonderful effect on your mind.  Even thinking of a river has this effect – it calms and quiets your mind.  Technically, that’s called yoga:  the quieting of your mind.

If you thought river-thoughts all the time, your mind would be your friend.  Right now, it’s not so friendly.  It harasses you.  It cuts you down.  It drives you crazy.  It never gives you a moment of peace.  So you do yoga to quiet your mind.  The lessons you learn in your yoga class and personal practice apply to life so beautifully, as do the lessons you learn on the river.  Sometimes, like in this story, the lessons are the same:  go with the flow.

Originally published May 2010

Still Focusing on Pain?

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

I love to introduce new students to yoga by starting them with the Shavasana adjustments.  Once they lie down on their back, I make sure they have enough blankets under their knees and then I shift one shoulder blade on the floor underneath them.  After realigning that shoulder, I ask, “What is the difference?’  Most students report that the shoulder feels lower, flatter or more relaxed.  But quite a few report that their other shoulder is tighter.

Instead of reporting that the one I adjusted feels better, they focus on the discomfort in the other one.  If I now adjust the second one, then they report on a different pain in their body, and then another…  They don’t know how to actually feel GOOD.  When their first shoulder feels good, they quit looking at it, and they go looking for any spot of pain to focus on.

Your mind loves to do the mental equivalent of picking at scabs.  When you have a cut that is still healing, the scab forms and the healing is going on underneath.  It progresses so well that the edges of the scab become loose.  You know that you really should leave the scab alone and let the healing process continue underneath, but you pick at the edge.  When you pull on it, sometimes you pull it all the way off and the bleeding begins again.  You have reinjured yourself and the healing process will take longer this way.  Yet you do it with your body — and you do the equivalent process with your mind.

You have some say in where your mind goes.  Picking at the unhealed hurts is not a way of healing them.  Living in the constant memory of difficult things you experienced in the past is a way of perpetuating the pain or even reinjuring yourself.  Living in constant worry about the future is a way of creating pain from events that you may never have to live through.  It’s almost as though you have an addiction to pain.

There is another alternative. Instead of having to choose between feeling pain and feeling nothing, what if you could actually feel good?  It is simply a matter of choosing where to focus your attention.  With this new yogi, still lying in Shavasana with only one shoulder shifted into place while noticing the other (unadjusted) shoulder, I say, “OK — your other shoulder still hurts.  But, how does this one feel?  I moved it — does it feel any different?”

It can take two or three tries before she or he can actually describe the shoulder that was adjusted.  She/he stammers and searches for unfamiliar words – words that describe a sensation of feeling good.  It is an important moment, which is not just about the body.  This is an important learning — learning how to feel good.  Learning to look at what feels good, even if everything else isn’t perfect.

This is an important change in perspective, though it is not really yoga.  It is a good beginning because, in yoga, you have to learn to look at what feels good.  Yet this new ability is not for the purpose of feeling good.  It is so that you can retrain your mind.  It is not training your mind to deny the problems that need to be taken care of, but it is being able to choose your attitude while you are handling them.  When you can see the bright side, you can smile in the midst of the storm, and it is even good for your health!  If that were all that yoga offered, it would be a lot.  As your body is opening up, your attitude is lightening up.

Still, this is all preparatory training.  This training prepares you to use your mind in more powerful ways — to use your mind to look beyond your mind.  You learn how to use your mind to look at Consciousness-Within.  Once you begin this process, you become free from the old patterns and reactions.  You become free, progressively and powerfully free.  This is yoga’s promise.

Originally published December 2003

Krishna Avatar Part 5

by Nirooshitha Sethuram

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, whose many amazing exploits reminded Yashoda of the words of Garga Muni, who named Krishna, announcing that the Supreme Lord had appeared as this child…

It was another beautiful day, almost noon-time.  A woman was walking with a basket of fruit on her head, shouting “Fruits, fruits…”  She was poor and had only a few fruits to sell to keep her family fed.  Krishna heard her calling and ran out to the street to get some fruit.  He didn’t have any money.  Those fruits looked very yummy and Krishna wanted them badly.  He looked around and found a pile of grain.  As bartering was usual those days, picked up a handful of grain and ran to the fruit seller.  On the way to the seller, because of his tiny little hands, he lost half of the grain he had taken, leaving only a few grains in his hand.  He reached out and gave the woman the few grains he had in his hand.  Looking at the few grains, the woman smiled at Krishna, the grace-filled little boy.  She happily gave him the fruits he could hold.  Krishna jumped up in joy, took the fruits and ran back into the house to eat them.

Wondering how she was going to feed her family, she lifted the basket to go home, and was amazed to find the basket heavy with gemstones, including rubies, emeralds, diamonds instead of the grains, with gold ornaments and other precious metals.  She was unable to understand what happened but thanked God for them and went home glorifying the divine.  Krishna was watching through the window laughing at the amazement of the woman.

Though Gokul had been a peaceful place to live, all the recent demonic attacks had made it unsafe.  Nanda and the elders met to come up with a solution.  They decided to move to the nearby village Vrindavan, both for safety reasons and because it had lush grass for their cows, along with the nearby forest and of course the river Yamuna, as in Gokul.

Within a day, they packed up everything in their carts, gathered their cattle and started their trek to Vrindavan. On the way, the Gopiis started to sing about Krishna; it was a delight to all the travellers. When they arrived, the Govardhana hills, the rich green pastureland and the beautiful Yamuna river was in sight.  It seemed a great place to live and all were happy.

In the city, Kamsa still clung to his thought of eliminating his enemy, killing Krishna.  After the death of the demons he’d sent, Putana and Trinavarta, he knew his enemy was no ordinary being.  He understood that he needed a far more powerful demon than the ones he sent earlier.  He was very anxious because he didn’t know where Devaki’s eighth son was.  He sent his spies all around, thus finding out the whole village of Gokul had moved to Vrindavan.  This made him very suspicious.  Some time later his suspicion was confirmed to be true:  a spy confirmed that Krishna was in Vrindavan.  Happy now, Kamsa could target Vrindavan in order to kill Krishna.  He called upon a ferocious demon called Vatsasura (the calf demon), ordering him to go to Vrindavan and kill Krishna.

Krishna, Balarama and their friends were big enough to take the calves out for grazing daily.  One day, while they were attending to the calves, Vatsasura took on the form of a calf, mingling with the other calves in order to get near Krishna and do the job he was sent for.  As soon as Vatsasura entered the herd, Krishna noticed him and gestured to Balarama, who is always ready to confront danger.  While Vatsasura was trying to hide and blend in, Balarama went right in front of him, to distract him.  Krishna snuck behind the demon and caught hold of the calf’s hind legs.  Lifting the demon high above his head, he whipped it round and round and threw him toward a huge tree.  Hitting the tree hard, the calf fell to the ground.  Vatsasura returned to his demon form, lying dead on the ground.

The residents of Vrindavan heard about Krishna’s valor, which increased their love and devotion towards him more than before.  They begin to believe their Guru Gargacharya’s predictions about Little Krishna, that he is no ordinary child, that he is a Divine Incarnation.

This was another failure for Kamsa.  He was troubled and worried, thinking he needed a stronger demon.  He remembered Bakasura (the crane demon), a much stronger demon and Putana’s brother.  Kamsa told Bakasura that he had found his sister’s killer, Krishna, who was living in Vrindavan.  Kamsa promised Bakasura a handsome reward for killing Krishna.  As soon as Bakasura heard the name of his sister’s killer, he was enraged.  He accepted Kamsa’s request and took off without wasting any time.

Krishna, Balarama and their friends as usual took the calves to the pastures early in the morning, then to the Yamuna River for water.  When they were resting, they saw a shadow of a crane over the river and pasture.  The bird looked like a mountain with its beak stretching several yards in front of it.  Krishna knew it was Bakasura who had taken the form of a crane.

Krishna walked towards the crane while the others held back.  Acting quickly, as soon as Krishna was close, Bakasura snatched him up with his long beak and swallowed him, thinking he had successfully killed Krishna.  Seeing this, all the kids froze in fear except for Balarama, who obviously knew what Krishna was up to.

While in the crane’s long throat, Krishna glowed with radiance, producing a lot of heat.  Unbearable heat!  The crane spat out Krishna in a hurry as its thin throat was being burnt.  Krishna jumped to the ground.  Bakasura attacked him with his beak again.  Krishna grabbed hold of the beak and tore it apart, killing Bakasura.  Another demon killed.

The younger brother of Putana and Bakasura learned that Krishna killed his siblings.  Aghasura (the serpent demon) felt so much vengeance that he decided to wipe out the whole of Vrindavan.  He disguised himself as a giant serpent, waiting for the children with his mouth open.  He resembled a mountain cave, his lower lip resting on the ground, with his upper lip touching the clouds like a mountain peak and his tongue resembling a path through the mountain cave.

Krishna and his companions were coming along in groups, playing and dancing while herding the calves.  The first two or three groups entered what they thought was a mountain cave, impressed with the smooth road, which was actually the serpent’s tongue.  They fell unconscious due to the venomous fumes inside the snake’s mouth.

Aghasura kept still as his goal was to kill all of them, especially Krishna, so that their parents would also will die in grief.  Thus, the whole of Vrindavan would be destroyed.  Krishna recognized the demon immediately when he saw it.  He had to devise a plan to kill the serpent without hurting his friends and the calves already in its stomach.

Krishna walked into the mouth of the huge serpent. Aghasura was very happy that Krishna had fallen into his trap.  In the serpent’s throat, Krishna started growing larger and larger, blocking its airway.  This made the serpent unable to gasp any air, so it died.  Krishna opened the snake’s mouth and brought all the boys and calves out.  He brought them back to consciousness by his divine powers.

Aghasura attained moksha by the grace of Krishna.  The Devas and all the celestial began celebrating this divine union. The celebration and news of Krishna’s glory reached Satyaloka, the residence of Lord Brahma.

After slaying Aghasura, the boys were having lunch, joking and laughing.  But when they finished eating, they noticed something strange.  Oh no!  All the calves were missing…  where did they go?  Did they wonder around and lose their way?  Krishna wanted all of them to stay calm and to stay in one place, so he went to look for the calves.  Searching everywhere in the forest, he couldn’t find any trace of them.  Wondering what had happened, he returned to the spot where his friends were waiting for him to tell them the sad news.  But all of his friends were now gone.

Through his divine powers, Krishna saw what was going on.  Lord Brahma had a little doubt in Krishna, as to whether he was really Lord Vishnu, especially since Krishna was acting just like a little boy, playing with other kids, even being a usual teenager with some might and powers.  So, Lord Brahma was testing him.  Lord Brahma had put the calves and the kids into a deep sleep and hid them in a cave.  Krishna smiled to himself, planning an answer for Lord Brahma.

The all-pervading Krishna manifested as each and every one of his missing friends and the missing calves, exactly how they were.  He returned to the village as usual with all his friends in the evening.  The mothers of the Gopalas and the calves welcomed them like never before, pouring their love out to them as they never had before. They didn’t know that this was because they had the opportunity and the highest blessings of being the parents of Lord himself.

After some time, Lord Brahma came to see what Krishna was doing without his friends.  To Lord Brahma’s astonishment, Vrindavan was as it had been before he’d hidden the kids.  In disbelief, he went back to the cave where the kids were hidden, thinking maybe Krishna had found them, but Lord Brahma found them still sound asleep.  He went back and forth between the cave and Vrindavan a couple of times to make sure.

When Krishna saw this, he turned himself along with all his friends and the calves in Vrindavan into Lord Vishnu’s form, only for Lord Brahma’s eyes.  Seeing Krishna’s true form and understanding his mistake, Lord Brahma rushed down to offer his respect to Krishna and brought all the kids and the calves back to Vrindavan.  Everything was back to what it was earlier.

Now Krishna, Balarama and the other friends were older, so they started to take the calves and the cows further into the pasture.  One day, going farther along one of the pathways, they came to a beautiful forest, where they could smell the fragrance of the fruits and flowers.  They had been warned to stay away from this forest of palm trees called Taalavana, due to Dhenukasura (the donkey demon).

Dhenukasura was surrounded by other small demons, also taking the form of donkeys, not letting anyone into that forest so that nothing was taken from there.  The kids were enthusiastic to go in and get some of the never before eaten fruits.  Krishna hinted to Balarama to go in and do the needful.  Balarama went into the forest, followed by Krishna and their other friends.

Balarama shook the trees with his mighty strength, making the ripe fruits fall to the ground.  Jubilantly picking and tasting the fruits, the kids completely forgot about the demons who were taking their afternoon nap.  All the noise from Balarama’s shaking of the trees woke Dhenukasura.  Angry that someone had entered his forest and awakened him from his nap, Dhenukasura appeared in front of Balarama and started kicking his chest with his hind legs, sounding like an earthquake.

At first Balarama was patient, though it was not his usual nature.  But then he got very angry and took hold of Dhenukasura’s hind legs, wheeled the donkey around and tossed it up into the treetop.  The demon came crashing down, landing dead on the forest floor.  The wheeling and the tossing made the forest look as though a tornado had hit the area.

The fight between Balarama and Dhenukasura woke all the other demons.  Wanting to avenge Dhenukasura’s death, they charged at Balarama.  Skillfully, both Balarama and Krishna killed all the demons by doing the same thing Balarama had done to Dhenukasura.  From the monkeys to the birds, all the creatures of the area were so happy to be able to come to the forest to enjoy the fruits for the first time.

More to come…

The Yearning

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Built into your humanness is the innate yearning for transcendence, which is cultivated by the Svaroopa® yoga practices.  While you are moving your body, taking care of your aches and pains, improving your health and mood, increasing your stamina and vitality, balancing your immune system and resetting your endorphins — you are also cultivating the call of your heart for mystical experiences.  Once you truly realize that you cannot get true satisfaction from outside, you can experience the yearning in its true form.  Kusuma Sachs described it beautifully in her blog:

The yearning is a sense of deliciousness that you know is there, but just beyond your grasp.  It is a tingling vibration deep in your being, promising something more, something that you know is more than you can even imagine.  It is the welling up of tears for no reason; it is the  longing for that which you know – and yet can’t grasp onto.  It is the elation that wells up, just by contemplating yearning itself.  It is the swelling of your heart into an expectation of unknown joy.  This is the yearning.  You know it so well.

To allow yourself to feel the yearning directly, without mundanating it, is both painful and delicious at the same time.  I made up the word, “mundanate,” meaning “to make mundane.” It is the opposite of the word “sublimate,” which means to make sublime. The contemplative traditions (monks and nuns) practice celibacy and prescribe that the initiates sublimate their sexual energy.  You may have thought that sublimating means repressing, denying, avoiding or even expressing sexual energy in abnormal ways, and may even have thought that sublimation refers only to sex.  In fact, sublimation means to make the mundane into something sublime, supreme, or complete. In terms of celibacy, it means you turn that overwhelming desire and energy toward God, who provides you with a deeper, more complete satisfaction than you have ever experienced, even with good sex.

While something mundane can be made sublime, it also goes the other way.  The sublime can be turned into the mundane.  This is what I see when I look at the popular yoga calendars.  The sacred postures that open you up to the experience of your own divinity have become circus posters, showing contortionists wearing almost nothing.  When the yoga poses serve their original purpose, they are a rocket ship to God.

You yearn for this experience.  The yearning is built into you, inherent within you and every human being.  Most of the people you know mundanate the feeling and look for satisfaction in a new job, a new pair of shoes, a new spouse, etc.  You’ve tried doing it yourself; after all, you had such good role models!  But it doesn’t work for you.  Somehow you know you are looking for something more.  And you get no satisfaction from all that efforting, as Mick Jagger says:

I try, and I try, and I try, and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no…

The “trying” gets in the way.  You get satisfaction by surrendering to your own core essence, which is the divine all-pervasive, ever-existent One Reality, which yoga calls “Shiva.”  You are Shiva.  This surrender is not a “giving up,” but a “giving in” to your Self. Discover your own core essence. Know your own Self.  Be that which you already are, the source of full and complete satisfaction.  And carry that into your life.

Do more Svaroopa® yoga.