Constant, change, changeless

Swami Chinmayananda explains the first part of the first shloka in the Aiteraya Upanishad saying, “Constant change can be maintained only upon a changeless substratum.” The first time I read this sentence, it was an experience, like switching on a light. It has since stayed with me and the more I think about it, I find myself watching the ‘change’ that is ‘constant’ in my ‘changeless’ life. It’s such a wonderful play of words, almost like the vyahritis, the pranava which are suggestive of the 3 states, 3 gunas, 3 doshas etc. Everytime I read the books, I marvel at how beautifully the rishis expressed thought and experience.

The period of my mini-retreat is over and there is a changed routine which will change further once school reopens. The seasons roll on and summer will soon morph into the monsoon and the mangoes will go out of season. The dry summer heat is already fading in the evenings hinting at the rains to come, just like our human lives. It’s interesting how we use space to define time which is the indicative in the second part of the first shloka. All these insights into the nature of existence was known through a purely subjective experience!

Story of Mahidasa on the back cover

ऊँ आत्मा वा इदमेक एवाग्र आसीत् ।
नान्यत्-किञ्चन मिषत् ।
स ईक्षत लोकान्नु सृजा इति ।। १ ।।

In the beginning, verily, Atman (Self) alone was this (the universe)… nothing else was active whatsoever… He thought I shall indeed create the worlds.

The word ‘miṣat’ at the end of the second line caught my fancy. Swami Chinmayananda explains the word as ‘winking’ and it is very thought provoking. As I contemplate the word, it suggests twinkling which leads to stars, the Sun and the Gayatri mantra and I come back to the heart, the changeless substratum. Just a word to roam the universe and come back to myself. I like to think of the heart as the abode of that Self, at one with the cosmic beating of the universe. The grandeur of just the seen universe is awe inspiring even as life, as I know it, goes on with traffic, chores and the sundry activities of everyday life. We take the many celestial movements for granted without stopping to think of the intelligence behind them that animates our existence. The predawn contemplation hours are magical and sacred and I cradle them within.

Once I enter in to the day’s work, I am caught in the flow of moments. Again, time and space. That same keen awareness is lost but there is a sharpness, a clarity in the thinking which allows me to be more productive. I suppose the abhyasa is to bring that awareness moment by moment into each and every space of my being.

May I be a worthy student to the teachers, mortal and eternal.

Hari Om

Image and Study material: Aitareya Upanishad- Commentary by Swami Chinmayanada






Finding shava

Savasana is by far the most challenging of all asanas. It is so much more difficult to be than to do. As the name suggests, it is the pose of the corpse or shava. Another word from my mother tongue here… Shavam means corpse in Malayalam.
The minute life leaves the body, there is no person but a dead body, we say the person has gone. Language can be very expressive if we listen carefully.
I had a short morning practice today and wound up in Setuband Sarvangasana as my Savasana. For a brief while, I was a shava. My body was just that, a body, a container. It was interesting to note that the sensation did not disappear as soon as I grew aware of it but I could watch it for a brief bit. Perhaps japa practice is responsible for this new ability to bring gentle attention. There was a distinct sensation or rather a lack of it in the repose. I found my breath was different, a natural retention. I don’t know if this is how it is meant to be but it was what it was. As always, it is a pose which leaves me a certain energy and calm dynamism.
A couple of girls at work have been asking me to teach them some asanas. I’ve been loathe to ‘teach’ anyone since there is so much I do not know and so much that is lacking in my own practice. A bigger fear is hurting or harming someone because of my ignorance. However, they have been asking quite a while and I agreed to show them what I know. They came in early to work today and we had a small session together. One of them even got a change of clothes to practise! The 30 odd minutes felt natural and I think they liked it too. Nothing fancy, just the way I was taught with a few tadasana variations, a couple of seated poses and Savasana. Before the day was out, they took down the names of the asanas to look it up and practise at home. They definitely seemed quite enthusiastic and it felt good to share.
Watching them in Savasana, I could see myself in the way they held themselves, the restlessness of the mind escaping through the body. Letting go is not easy yet in a few minutes the body quietens enough to begin to relax. The skin changes. When my children were little, their skin would soften when they slept or just woke up. In fact, it would turn a few shades lighter and ‘baby soft’ describes that tenderness perfectly. It happens in Savasana too, the softening and relaxing. The adjustment cues help in allowing the body to find its natural repose.

Tadasana and Savasana. Waking and Sleeping. Dharmakshetra in between…

Hari Om

Applied Science

स्थिरसुखमासनम् ।४६।
sthira sukham āsanam is one of the commonly quoted sutras that talk about asana. Sthirtha and sukham have many shades of meaning and while it is easier to see it in the context of asana, I also see how difficult it is to apply it to life off the mat. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is a gift of grace to be able to have these twin states in all life’s moments.

All three words are part of the Malayalam vocabulary too and it lends a flavour to learning Sanskrit. There is a background of context as I explore the language of the ancient texts. Sthirtha in my mother tongue also means firm or steady and sukham means a sense of wellbeing, comfort (for lack of a more accurate  translation) and asanam means seat.
Freewheeling on this crisp Sutra, I think about Yog being an essential oneness which allows me to be rooted firmly like a tree or mountain. Perhaps that is why we begin with tadasana… The steadiness of equanimity in being where one is, a state of openness which witnesses without discrimination, acting without attachment. Difficult situations are a good opportunity to see how Yoga can be applied, less as a solution and more as a natural state of being. Easier said than done, like all other practices, this attitude too is one that needs patient cultivation. I feel sthirtha before sukham is also indicative of the progression required to experience sāmyatā.

The Song on the battlefield

As Lord Krishna sings of the man of steady wisdom in the Chapter on ‘Sankhya Yoga’,
यः सर्वत्रानभिस्नेहस्तत्तत्पाप्य शुभाशुभम्।
नाभिनन्दति न द्वेष्टि तस्य प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठिता ।।५७।।

प्रयत्नशैथिल्यानन्तसमापत्तिभ्याम् ।४७।
follows the earlier sutra and clarifies the state of sthiram and sukham where the effort becomes effortless. In everyday living, it is a promise of a new way of acting rather than reacting being the new base without effort, a ‘growing balance in ourselves’ as Swami Chinmayananda puts it.

Asana practice surprises me when I encounter an ease at times. I expect effort to move further and find little resistance which makes me wonder if I am underdoing an action. Last evening it struck me that regular effort has led to a slightly greater range of movement and it is perhaps time to start exploring the actions beyond a muscular level. Start paying attention to all those sensations and experiences that I consciously do not try to understand even as they occur. Maybe I don’t need to be fixed in assuming a certain time has to elapse before I am eligible to receive the blessings of the eternal teachers.

Hari Om