Death and all his friends…

Both my father and father-in-law passed away in July a few years ago. As per the Hindu calendar, my dad’s death anniversary falls on Ashadh Ekadashi, an auspicious day that marks the beginning of a 4 month period of increased sadhana. It’s also the period when Ram and his brother paused in their search for Sita and made the acquaintance of the vanaras. 

Death is not a topic discussed freely, neither do we spend time contemplating it. Yet, savasana is where the magic happens after an honest practice. Savasana is where we surrender our flaws, our handicaps and become recipients of divine grace. 

Savasana is where the elements begin to express themselves in the walls of the nostrils and the moist, warm breath. The visual imagery that it conjures is one of the heat of the cosmic energy transforming the water element to expel itself as air only to merge in the vast consciousness of the universe. All this through the earthlike equipment of the body. A poor description of a tiny and expansive sensation. Perhaps, it is an overactive imagination, perhaps it is real. All I know is that the thought sprang up and asked to be expressed. And then, there is that cue that came in the prashnayantra email, “In ancient Indian thought, there is great attention to language and grammar, and almost no distinction is drawn between the word and the object denoted – they are two manifestations of the same underlying concept, as it were. Secondly, a direct correlation is recognised between language and mind-making. The given statement is an example of how delving deeper on language and grammar helps cultivate our understanding.” Anyways, that’s an ongoing exploration. 


I’ve been fascinated with the elements for a while now but recently came across a signpost in Guruji’s interpretation of Sutra 2:25. And somehow it makes me sit up and relook at the direction of my enquiry. As I understand it today, exploring the elements and the gunas is just about scratching the surface of a first step! The more time that passes, the more ignorance comes up to the surface. A welcome reminder to remain ever a student.

I’ve gone through the Sutras in the order that they are written, the way they are linked and also randomly. Lately, I’ve started reading it backwards and alongside an other commentary. The striking difference is the experiential sense of Guruji’s interpretation versus the more scholarly version of Edwin Bryant. It is interesting to get a different perspective and reading both backwards is like seeing the world in Sirsasana, the drishti changes.

Hari Om

Namo Namah Shri Guru Padukabhyam

Where do I start? Talks at RIMYI are always rich in subject and today’s exploration was ‘Guru’.  

The thoughts expressed were familiar and new, the nuances different and it probably cannot be summarised in a post. Simply, because there is much to ruminate on. Prashantji left us with an interesting question to ask ourselves, ‘Who am I?’. The first thought that came to mind was the book, I am That by Nisarga Dutt Maharaj. It’s a theme common in Swami Chinmayananda’s works as well. But then, all teachings are one…

As usual, the Institute was chockablock with students, old and new, local and foreign. All of us, regardless of experience or lack of it, students. On such occasions, we usually chant the invocation together and it is a very powerful sensation. There is a palpable energy in that hall which somehow feels like a living entity. In the few minutes before the program started, I thought about what Guruji meant to me. 

I never had the opportunity to study from him in person, yet like Eklavya, I found my Guru in him. ‘Guru in absentia’ as Firooza put it. Unlike Eklavya though, I am an undeserving pupil. Guruji is like an ocean, both the anonymous drop and the mighty ocean. As Prashantji pointed out, his brilliance was the cumulative effect of his many Gurus over many lifetimes and their Gurus over their lifetimes. The eternal Guru-Shishya parampara that transcends time and space. Each generation stands on the shoulders of the previous one and builds from that base. Prashantji shared an anecdote of how as a child, he couldn’t see what was going on during a Ganesh festival procession. His father hoisted him onto his shoulders and then a young Prashant could see beyond what his father could! He reminded us about the traditional practice of paying homage to our ancestors, the pitrs. There’s an interesting story about Bhageerath and the Ganga that touches on this theme. But, that’s another post altogether. This day, Guru Pournima, is in honour of that Guru principle. 

Besides the pancha tattvas, there is a sixth- the Guru tattva as Firooza said. The inner Guru, the one that manifests itself when the student is ready. The analogy of a mirror brought out the concept beautifully. Darshan being nothing but Atma Darshanam, the illuminating of the Self within. That mirror needs constant cleaning and polishing to remain clean and free from distortion to see clearly. Until then, it is abhyasa and vairagyam- the twin tools or techniques to prepare ourselves for that vision. Even Arjuna needed special vision to see his beloved Krishna’s true essence.

Guruji’s life and conduct was his teaching and that’s why he is a true Guru despite multitudes never having been in his physical presence. He is a living force for me through his students and writings. Thanks to technology, I can hear him too and it is that booming voice that jumps out from the pages whenever I read his books.

The lotus feet of the Guru 🙏

Two hours of experience and knowledge of those blessed with his attention will need many more hours of introspection and contemplation before they start revealing their truths as and when I become worthy.

As the concluding lines of the Svetasvatara Upanishad goes, “He who has the same supreme devotion for the Guru as for God, indeed to the great person the spoken meanings of the Upanishads become revealed.” I pray that I remain a devoted student all my life and find the strength to come back no matter how many times I fall. 

Signing off with a verse from the Bhaja Govindam (31)

गुरुचरणाम्बुजनिर्भरभक्त:

संसारादचिराद्भव मुक्त:।

सेन्द्रियमानसनियमादेवं

द्रक्ष्यसि निजह्रदयस्थं देवं।।३१।।
Hari Om

Image courtesy: Rupali – a fellow student at RIMYI

Who is a Guru?

He who has through his life and work unveiled a greater vision, provided you with a thirst to aspire, or kindled in you a greater hunger to live and to face your problems courageously- he is your guru. The teacher may be a book, it may be a passing statement, it may be an experience in life itself. The teacher is the one whose remembrance helps you become a critic of yourself. 

– Swami Chinmayananda 

In the light of Virabhadrasana 1

One of the little games I play in my mind is guessing the sequence or approach to the weekly classes. Generally, the pattern is standing asanas for the first week, forward extensions for the second, backbends for the third and prepping for pranayama in the last. Every class surprises me with the difference in treatment. The set of asanas in the syllabus is the same yet the sequencing or the method of exploring it is so dramatically different!

Today’s asana was virabhadrasana 1 and a phrase by our teacher, ‘in the light of Virabhadrasana 1‘ was very illuminating (couldn’t resist the pun)! 😊

Bhujagansana provided the direction of study while the usual trio of Trikonasana, Virabhadrasana 2 and Parsvakonasana provided the exploration. It is a strenuous pose and one that I have just started intensifying my efforts in as the knee feels stronger. End of the class, I was left with a similar sense of light like after a backbends class.

Image from the Preliminary Course book

The symbolism of Virabhadra is interesting, or maybe I am just fascinated with the Puranas. Virabhadra was born of a strand of Lord Shiva’s hair in his raging sorrow at losing his beloved Sati. His sole purpose of coming into existence was to destroy Daksha’s yagna. Three eyed, powerful and with a burning goal, he was a fierce warrior, giving rise to the name of the asana, Virabhadrasana or Warrior pose. The English version is a dilute translation of the Sanskrit name which is so rich in its imagery. Such was his power that even Vishnu could not subdue him with his Sudarshan chakra! He was accompanied by Bhadrakaali, the feminine form of the Devi’s wrath. The principle of destruction is an essential aspect of any transformation and we see it in the story of Daksha as well. Yet, there is redemption for the arrogant Daksha in the end when his head is replaced. Energy can neither be created, nor destroyed. It can only be transformed. School book science echoes elemental truths brought out in the tapestry like texture of our myths.

The name of the asana is significant in its symbolism, painting the principles of bravery, singleminded focus and complete devotion. Karma, jnana and bhakti all in one. Quite like the benefits the pose offers too. There was a brief moment towards the end of the multiple repetitions of the asana that I sensed the solid strength and stability of the earth element. In the preliminary course book, this asana is said to ignite the fire of will power. I’m guessing that in time there would be a touch of all elements in harmony in the same pose. Perhaps, some day when prayatna shaithilyatha manifests itself in the asana for me, I may channel the brilliance of the inner Virabhadra. 

In gratitude

Hari Om