Days and Nights of the Devi

The triumvirate of creation, sustenance and destruction in the form of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh is common enough knowledge but they are inert without Para Shakti. In her creative aspect, she is inspired artitstry; in her nourishment avatar, she is the womb of the world; in her destructive form, she is ruthlessly savage. All destruction is but creation waiting to be born.

This morning, I had a glimpse of the elements as an expression of the devi principle.

Earth is the fertile field on which life is born and sustained. Bhoomi devi is also the savage goddess who makes the earth quake and erupt liquid fire that eventually transforms the geoscape.

As water, she is the ocean on which Vishnu sleeps until the moment of creation is ready to spring alive. She is also the waters of the womb nestling new life just as in her fury, she is pralaya.

As Fire, she is the union of egg and sperm that sparks life even as she nestles in the warmth of a mother’s embrace. She is also the pyre which chars the shell of a spent body.

She hastens the seasons to create their winds even as they soothe or agitate the body. In her rages, she is the hurricane that hurtles through life.

Space implodes in her black holes even as stars are born and planets wobble in their steady orbits.

She is Mahamaya even as she expresses in such sensory life. It’s hard to wrap around the thought of the illusory nature of the human embodiment even as it evolves in mystical ways into Pure Consciousness.

These days of the Devi have been one of heaviness of the heart and I didn’t expect to have her darshan. But, I did. In unexpected ways, both in human form and in clay. It’s such an irony that this period has also seen a rise of #metoo in my land. On one hand, we worship the feminine energy and on the other, our girls and women are violated as they have been since the beginning of creation. It’s Maha Ashtami today and as I looked at the avatars of the Devi in the neighbourhood, I couldn’t help but recall Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I rise’.

The neighbourhood community Devi.

With all the rage of suppressed voices and mockery of those who have never known the paralysis of silence, one thing that is lost is the now. That’s all we have and sometimes it comes as a prescription from an old teacher- one setuband sarvangasana a day. Sometimes, the very thing you tell yourself has to be heard through another voice.

I have zero expectations as I assume the shape of the asana and wonder if I’m imagining things even as I watch the wobbliness of Prithvi and the lopsidedness of Ap as it flows on one side. Agni is burning inwards and vayu is blocked in a triangular circuit while Akash is closed to me. Is it possible to actually sense these things when one has been out of regular practice? I don’t know what to believe and so just watch the unruly mind as the body goes through the motions of rest.

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10 months later…

It’s taken me nearly 10 months to go through the Gita this time, a slow study of a few shlokas a day with some short stretches of breaks from reading. I turned the last page at about 4:30 this morning and as I sat thinking about the journey through these pages, it was interesting to see how much change was happening in my life during the course of my study. An extremely uncertain and challenging phase which fugued into an even more displaced time.

While my copy of the book is marked with words that spoke directly, it feels like I’ve barely begun to dip into its nectar. 701 verses concluding with Sanjaya’s conviction, “Wherever is Krishna, the Lord of Yoga, wherever is Partha, the archer, there are prosperity, victory, happiness and firm (steady or sound) policy; this is my conviction.”

यत्र योगेश्वर: कृष्णो यत्र पार्थो धनुर्धर:।

तत्र श्रीर्विजयो भूतिर्ध्रुवा नीतिर्मतिर्मम ।।७८।।

There are a couple of interesting points in this shloka. The first being, the presence of both the Lord of Yoga and the archer as a necessary condition. The second is the fruit of their joint presence.

Swami Chinmayananda speaks about Krishna as the ‘marriage between the secular and the sacred’ and the natural progression of such a union being prosperity, victory/ success, happiness and firm policy.

Shree, Vijaya, Bhuti, Dhruva neeti are the sanskrit words and it intrigued me enough to spend some time wondering on the promise they held. While the common translations seem adequate, I cannot help shake a sense of something that goes beyond the word meaning to the root meaning. Unanswered for now but there is a churn inside that throws up flashes like exalted earthly existence, sthiratha and sukham of the Sutras etc. Perhaps, I’m barking up the wrong tree, perhaps not. We’ll see in time.

The last shloka is Sanjaya’s conclusion of the Divine Song and appropriate to one in the thick of a battle for dharma in the context of the Mahabharata. Goals of victory, prosperity and a stable rule. Outside of that context, in the modern day scenario, the battlefield is our internal mindscape. No less intense and the promise is a prosperity of radiant thoughts, small victories over the fears conquered, steadiness of contentment and the permanence of the purpose of our lives, like the pole star.

Finishing this slow plod through the book has only made me feel how much of an Arjuna I remain in between armies, suspended in time and space.

A wooden inlay panel that I love looking at in my home.

Yoga class in a dentist’s chair

I spent two hours in a dentist’s chair today. Painful? No. Terrifying? Yes. But after a point, it became one of curious interest in the dentist’s absorption in his work.

An unassuming man, he is as much a student as an established doctor and I was reminded of Guruji. A young man, he had numerous accolades to his credit and also teaches and speaks at many events. Unlike many others in his profession, his renovated clinic is modest and his clients mostly come to him via word-of-mouth reference.

At varying stages in the procedure, he took pictures and I pictured him stacking them up to teach a point or two. Another thing that struck me was his fearlessness. Not an arrogant bravado but the ability to persist and not fear the patient’s fear. It was an interesting yoga lesson for me at a few levels.

The overwhelming sense of asmita which is responsible for raga and dvesha colours all thoughts and actions. The order of the kleshas are progressive beginning with avidya and their subtlest manifestation is abhinivesha. The life instinct. The sutras are like a surgeon’s knife, they cut clean to the chase. Economic, efficient and stand the test of time.

The whole prospect of treatment was frightening and I could cope with humour. It was interesting to see how laughter and joking worked as a means of practising ‘pratipaksha bhavanam‘. Quite by accident, I must add. It took the bite out of the fear of pain and allowed me to witness art and science in another person.

There was a fleeting thought that I should probably ask someone to go with me and then I questioned the purpose. End of the day, no one can share pain, physical or otherwise. No one can experience your light no matter how much you want them to be bathed in it. And then I ask, why did consciousness break into so many billion souls?

I have no answers but an image comes to mind from my running days. An early morning when I was the run and saw myself as a atomic piece of the universe in all its multitude. And all is as it is meant to be.

Coincidentally, the dental x-ray clinic was located in a building which had a decorative totem pillar. One of the figures had all his teeth showing.😁

I’ll leave with a silly bit of fun before I finish.

Me: Dang, The tooth fairy isn’t going to visit me. Ask me why?

Because the dentist kept the tooth.

“Art of Yoga is difficult, not impossible” – B.K.S. Iyengar

Guruji’s punya thithi is always marked with a program by the Institute, this year was no different. The first couple of years were still a little shaky as his old students struggled to find their anchor. These days, the sense of his presence is unshakeable when they speak of him. Except Prashantji, I suppose. He’s always been the stoic one, exhorting us to learn what Guruji was always trying to teach. Not Iyengar yoga, but yog.

A backbencher’s perspective

There will never be another B.K.S. Iyengar or a Swami Vivekananda or any of the other great teachers. Simply because, they were the full realization of themselves. And that’s really the call for us too, to realize ourselves.

One of the things that stood out for me was a reminiscing by Raya about Guruji’s response to his youthful frustration at the impossibility of being able to replicate his asana. The reply came later as an autographed line in the Art of Yoga, “The art of yoga is difficult but not impossible.” With love, B.K.S. Iyengar

In fact Raya actually suggested that we could write the exact words and it would hold true for us too. And he is right. It echoes the thought in the Gita about the promise of emancipation for all. Of the entire bit, ‘with love’ was the defining phrase for me. A child-like generosity unencumbered by ego. Not just Guruji but Geetaji and Prashantji also have that same simplicity of unfettered love.

It feels good to get back to a routine of practice and class. I thought of an inability for a regular practice as a loss of asana proficiency but it really doesn’t matter. Yoga is right where I am, how I am.

In my studies, I have come to the last chapter in the Geeta for this reading and I found myself going through the introduction of all the previous chapters as suggested in the footnotes. I ended up underlining many portions in those sections. Suffice to say, this exercise will need to be repeated again. In the meanwhile, it is time for another round of study of the yog sutras.

Hari Om

Open your eyes

I woke up at 3 this morning. Blame it on my anticipation of yoga today. I was pleasantly surprised that a couple of teachers had noticed my absence. It’s been nearly two months since I made it to class.

At one time, I would have groaned in my head about the expected obstinacy of the muscles but this time was different. There wasn’t any resignation or aversion, just acceptance of my situation as is. I did my stuff, forgot a couple of asanas and wrapped up without straining too much. While my body remained mostly silent, the mind was activated to a sharpness, a slowing of time. I noticed more around me, like the smell of wet leaves and the chimes singing on the breeze. Maybe it was a result of saying the invocation with our eyes open. That was today’s instruction and a first in class. I have done it at home but that felt different from an unexpected instruction in class. But, that’s what I love about this system of learning. It’s less of being taught and more of inquiring.

Pain

Birth is painful

Growing is painful

Disease is painful

Decay is painful

Death, well I don’t know anything about it except that every thing that is born dies.

Yesterday morning, I was tired. So tired that it would have been easy to turn into a puddle of tears. But, somewhere there was the stubborn runner’s grit that gave me a mental shake and I could get on with the day. It is not easy to care for someone who needs constant assistance, manage work and home while going through personal turbulence. Somedays, it gives and it’s ok.

The fatigue is overwhelming and I have been finding it difficult to do my asana practice and reading study. So, I opened a random page and it fell on 13:9 which echoed the trajectory of birth, old age, disease and death, the same musings that I have been pondering upon. In a nutshell, pain.

The same pain that galvanized Prince Siddharth to Buddhahood. I see Amma, frail and broken, suffering physical and mental pain. While assisting her or cleaning her, I see how the skin folds into yet more pain. There is no privacy of body as she is dependent on someone to help her with her bodily functions. While my instinctive thought is ‘I wish I don’t live to be that old or ever get into a situation that I need someone’s help to use the bathroom’, the next is almost a prayer that I have enough gracefulness to accept such a condition if it come to be. Guruji’s words are joyful as far as living and dying are concerned- “Live happily, die majestically”. One could be a bag of sores and still die a majestic death.

It got me thinking of the klesas, the afflictions of avidya, asmita, raga, dvesha and abhinivesa. In the commentary, they are classified neatly into intellectual, emotional and instinctive categories. The more I read, the more I realise how much the commentary still leaves to self-exploration. Layers upon layers.

I remain grateful for all the help and love the universe provides in abundance. The silver lining in these grey rainy days has been to see a smile on Amma’s face finally. She has turned a bend and feels a glimmer of hope. That is more than enough.

i am

A few days ago, I was out early and saw a barefoot runner in the rain. The image stayed with me until I got back home and sat sipping my coffee. There sprung a few lines as I sat in the balcony full of the moment.

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Fast forward to today, my reading was focused on the Bhagwad Geeta 13:25. Part of the commentary in that shloka spoke about vichara and my mind went to the sutra that talks about vitarka, vichara, ananda and asmita. So, I did what any good student would do and opened up my books. 🙂 I now see the value in memorising and why the Indian system of study has always been heavy on rote learning.

If I had to take it step by step, it would begin with the Geeta shloka that goes, “Some, by meditation, behold the Self in the Self by the Self; others by the “YOGA-OF-KNOWLEDGE” (by SANKHYA YOGA); and others by KARMA YOGA.

The Yog Sutra reads as “Practice and detachment develop four types of samadhi: self-analysis, synthesis, bliss and the experience of pure being.”

For ease of use, I have stuck to the translations by Swami Chinmayananda and B.K.S.Iyengar respectively.

The sutra looks deceptively simple but is like waves upon waves of brilliance. It is the culmination of the previous 5 sutras beginning with Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah (1:12). The commentaries have been pretty extensive on this one and this tasting is just that, a tasting. There are so many layers packed into its wisdom. All I sense now is an intuitive sense of light and I hope it will reveal itself. It’s interesting that the first pada is Samadhi pada and it weaves around the theme of abhyasa and vairagyam be it in the means, effects or obstacles.

It’s interesting how the four stages of samadhi are not just progressive but also integrative. It is clear in the kosas, one enveloping the other or the overlapping elements, gross and subtle or then the construct of the embodiment and all its systems. Progressive in it’s faculty of making available only what one is ready for and integrative in that we already have all that we need to behold the Self within.

My instinctive reaction to anything to do with samadhi is that it is way off my league, I’m most comfortable being a mridu student. And yet, there are moments, like in today’s limitless savasana when there is only space. The frailties of body and mind do not exist there. But, it doesn’t happen often and a day like today feels like a benediction. Outwardly, things are in flux with Amma recovering slowly from a surgery and a limbo in all other areas of life. I haven’t been able to get to class and even home practice was in shambles with hospital duty but I could manage a little today. I don’t know about tomorrow. For now, I am grateful for yoga through study. There is a yoga for everyone.

Hari Om