Old scribbles and eternal promises

It’s quite nice seeing my old notes and markings in the book as I slowly come back to simultaneously familiar and brand new passages. I remember the feeling of exhilaration when I read this verse the last time. Enough to make me write PROMISE in the margin.

This picture is from Swami Chinmayananda’s commentary on the Gita and I remember feeling comforted by the inherent promise in the statement. Elsewhere in the commentary on this verse, Swamiji goes on to knot the three ‘margas‘ or paths of karma, bhakti and jnana leading to the one common goal.

There are many parallels with Guruji’s sayings. He said yoga is for all and here Krishna proclaims that many have attained the Supreme goal through the techniques he systematically puts forth. Another is the use of the word ‘path’ instead of ‘yoga’ for the three approaches of karma, bhakti and jnana. Guruji always believed in one yoga too. His approach may have been different for the erudite and the lay person but yog was always one.

The chapter is titled, ‘The Yoga of Renunciation of Action in Knowledge’ and is interesting as a method. Action in a spirit of yajna leading to a purification in the fire of knowledge. Fire is where the transformation happens, where the gross begins to lose its finite nature. Until then, you move repeatedly whether lumbering or free flowing…

Hari Om

Finding Guru

The slow re-read of the Bhagwad Gita has been a different experience. It’s been a couple of months since I started and I’ve just arrived at Chapter 4. The opening lines were familiar as I was given these to include in a presentation on yoga about a year ago. In that context, it was about the origin and evolution of yoga. Today, it was interesting to see it in the context of the unbroken lineage from guru to shishya. It implies transfer of the light of experiential wisdom from guru to devoted student.

It is interesting to see how the Sun is the first recipient of this timeless wisdom and continues to fulfill it’s dharma, perhaps that explains the potency of the Gayatri mantra. His son, Manu is given this knowledge and he passes it on to the Raja Rishis, Kings who were also Seers. It percolated to the Sages and in keeping with the cycle of evolution and devolution, wound up being lost. Lord Krishna then goes on to say that he would reveal the same ancient secret to his friend and devotee, Arjuna. I found a mirror in the terms ‘friend’ and ‘devotee’ when Geetaji addresses functions at the Institute. Invariably she says, friends and fellow practitioners of yoga. There’s love and compassion, not the sickly sweet variety but the simple love of a mother who may appear stern. Offerings of Guruji’s teachings in the spirit of yajna, the technique of Karma yoga, Lord Krishna speaks about in the previous chapter.

And coincidence or not, something I read later in the day was from an obscure book I found, a translation of inspired poetry by Sri Muruganar as an offering to his guru, Ramana Maharishi.

I find it hard to ask things to anyone and often feel like a quizzical question mark. So, I read and let the words simmer. Sometimes, connections pop up but I wonder if it’s just an overactive imagination. At other times, I feel I’m on track and it gets validated when I hear or read something that reiterated what seemed to be just my interpretation.

Swami Chinmayananda says, “Therefore, a study of the scriptures by one’s own self is apt to create misunderstanding in the mind of the student rather than a right appreciation of it.”

I ask, where does one find a guru today? We seek in the words the masters left behind but the light can only come from their lotus feet…

Hari Om

Flames of wonder

The seven flickering tongues of flames are kāli (the black one), karālī (the terrific one), manojavā ( the swift -as-mind one), sulohitā (the deep red one), sudhūmra-varna (the smoke coloured one), sphulinginī (the sparkling) and viśvaruchi, (the bright, all shining- variegated one).

⁃ Translation by Swami Chinmayananda

Image from the commentary by Swami Chinmayananda on Mundakopanishad

The translation above is of the 4th mantra in the 2nd section of the Mundakopanishad. Since I read it in the morning, I have been mesmerized by the sounds of the Sanskrit names. Imagine the level of penetration to classify flames into distinctive categories and this is not even getting into the esoteric symbolism implicit in the lines. It is tantalizing in its assured cadences which say no more. I see flashes of mind states and senses, time and space, secret laws that propel the existence of the universe and so on. It’s been an awe inspiring verse and I am grateful that we have access to these words even if they are beyond our understanding.

Hari Om

Blurring lines

I’ve been spewing words on my phone, on the laptop and in my notebook. They’re leaking like rooftops being battered by our tropical monsoons. Somedays, it’s overwhelming, this urge to pour out all that’s flashing by and somehow they slow down enough to pick out a few pictures. It usually happens after a period of drought, the little blackhole called writer’s block. Eventually I come out on the other side, changed and yet the same, like time and space moved and I remained.

Even cities have their places of magic...

It’s beyond late and the words still spill out as I write different pieces concurrently. These have no deadlines to meet, no audience to expose themselves to, they just demand to see themselves on paper or a screen. And, I wonder how terribly unyogic this uncontrolled urge is but then as a recent reading of the Divine Song rhetorically said, even Brahma was bound by the urge to create. I find a blurring of the different compartments of my life and somehow everything becomes inextricably linked. I have multiple blogs that kept everything in it’s own little island and now I find myself wondering what goes where. Everything seems to have coalesced into this stream of my life.

I had a long spell of illness soon after my travels which meant no practice and then finally, made it to class. It was bad with my back giving way too. Just the aftermath of the illness and a general breakdown of the system. I started practice at home slowly as the body found a little energy and that’s when I saw a spark of magic. My knees have started to change shape and the gap between the ankles is beginning to reduce. Of course, I did get a little enthusiastic about a regular practice and did a little I shouldn’t have but got right back to where I am at now. Sticks and belts. The cartilage will need lots of time. In the meanwhile, there is enough to work with, like making the sirsasana with sticks a little less laborious or finding a tall navasana.

In class, I find myself waiting for the last pose, a supported ardha halasana where I could stay forever. That’s my savasana where I disappear even in the midst of all the bustle of a remedial class.

In gratitude

Temple trails

2017 came to an end with a blazing trail of temples in Southern India. Guruvayoor temples, Madurai Meenakashi Amman temple, Avanashi and Palani temples all beautifully old and steeped in worship since many centuries. The last of these was a fitting end with us getting a chance to witness the Ucchha pooja (noon worship) right in front of the inner sanctum. It was a completely new experience to let go to the sounds, sights and smells of faith. Sometimes believing is about believing in the faith of another. Besides the whirlwind of temples, we also managed a sunset by the sea, a morning of bird watching and a visit to a weavers cluster.

Mural on the wall of Guruvayoor temple depicting the story of Krishna sucking the poison from Putana

Guruvayoor in Kerala was our first stop and we spent a leisurely two days in this temple town. Being December, the holiday crowd as well as the Sabarimala pilgrims added to the swollen crowds. It’s a level playing field as far as darshan is concerned, everyone waits in line. There is a stage setup in front of the temple and we had the pleasure of watching inspired kaikottilkali and Bharatnatyam performances. Dance and song in glory of the divine is of a different nature altogether. The flavour lingers long after the performance has ended. The approach to the temple begins with a large Garuda watching over the lively town. The long walk towards the entrance is lined with shops and stalls selling clothing, accessories, food, handicraft items, medicines and flowers. The ubiquitous Kerala kasavu spills out from every nook and corner and almost 90% of the women devotees are clad in it too.

Devotees in the temple complex

It is by far my favourite weave for its grand simplicity. The walls of the temple complex are covered in vibrant murals depicting the stories from the puranas. The best time to admire them is in the morning when the sunlight makes them come alive.

We stood in line for almost 4 hours before inching through inside for a darshan. Considering the dark and crowd, we barely saw the idol. The stone walls were cool to touch and seeped with smells of sandalwood paste, incense and endless oil.

Bharatnatyam performance

These iconic temples have a larger than life feel about them but I never feel calm in so much crowd. I prefer the smaller ones with no fanfare. The neighbouring Mammiyoor temple was more up my alley with its sparse crowd. A small but exquisite structure which was peaceful right from the giant peepul tree at its entrance. None of these beautiful edifices have authorship of their artisans. The sculptures chiselled into the walls, or standing alone are exquisitely beautiful and have stood the test of time. It makes me wonder how they were teased out of the stone, so lifelike. Art like that is divine.

One of the many shops selling handicrafts I suppose I would have to go back and spend more time to really soak in all the legends and stories. Two days is too short to do anything more than scratch the surface. Someday, I may be one of the wandering souls who can spend as many days as she wants in these places. Until then, there’s just these snatches of time in the hustle of a householder’s life.

All I did by way of my practice was tie my legs with the sticks everyday. We spent a lot of time in trains and on the move. The last leg was a long train journey and I was planning on how I would get back to a new routine when I fell sick, terribly sick. The first week of this year was spent in bed and it’s only now I am getting back to a semblance of normal. At times like this I wonder if I will ever get back to a regular practice? Perhaps, I should just stick to the texts and thoughts. But, that’s probably just the weakness of illness talking. Tomorrow is a new day, an empty page.