Subsumed in Smriti

A couple of weeks ago, we explored ‘smriti‘ as part of the sutra study at RIMYI. Just a day before that I was talking with someone about memory and since then ‘smriti‘ has been a continuous whisper.

Prashantji mentioned how the other vrittis were ‘subsumed by smriti‘ and that phrase has taken root. Smriti again. Memory is a loose translation for smriti as the latter indicates knowledge recollected as well as the recollection of the process of knowing . The technical delving into the vrittis is a fascinating exercise and one that is deeply rich at the Institute. Between Prashantji and Srineet, there is a lovely balance of structure and flow. I remember thinking how the teachings of the family are like a river, continuously flowing. No matter at what point one enters it, one is bathed. The generosity of their sharing reminds me of something I read once about how sharing even the little we know is important since that could possibly help someone else to get more out of that small piece of knowledge.

Back to smriti, the concept was deeply immediate to my current situation. How does one use smriti in its aklishta form? How do you examine all the vrittis that come remain encapsuled by it? How much can you trust the mind and the senses? Regret for the past and worry about the future also lie in its realm. The current embodiment is a result of smritis of previous lifetimes. How does one work through the weight of all that past?

The sutra leads on to the twin rivers of Abhyasa and Vairagya, one flowing outward and the other to the source. ‘Chitta Nadi’. It is the solution Lord Krishna gives Arjuna as well. Oftentimes when I open the Bhagwad Gita, the page that appears is the shloka (6:35) that provides the same solution. The treatment of the solution in the Sutras and the Gita is the same but its expression is beautiful in both. Terseness in one and personal in the other to suit the capacity of the sadhaka. Krishna taps into the innate warriorhood of the Pandava prince by addressing him as ‘mighty armed’ and brings an empathetic understanding of the difficulty in restraining the restless mind before laying out the prescription.

Abhyasa uses smriti. In asana practice or study of the texts, the mind employs smriti to go further leading to more smriti. And what is the limit of the mind’s capacity? What is the limit of the capacity of the cosmos of which we are not even a drop?

Our lives are part of that uninterrupted recording and we are mostly without any real control since our thoughts and feelings based in the past drive our present. Instinct must come from that recollection of millenia. I imagine (vritti again😊) Vairagya would be the ropes of smriti falling off by itself. No burden of past impressions or future anxieties.

This student is deeply grateful for the experience of listening to the learnings of teachers who have thought deeply on the subject of yog. These ruminations are but a tiny interpretation of what was understood of a few things that they shared. Perhaps in time, something else will be revealed from all that was heard until now.

Hari Om

A wandering student

My evenings have a new routine. Most days, I spend an hour at a park watching the tableau of life play out. Children playing, birds picking their branches for the night, adults walking, older people watching over grandchildren, lovers snatching a cozy conversation and so on. Sometimes I write or read but mostly I just watch the sun as it dips behind tree tops.

Underneath a tamarind tree

I miss watching the sunrise from my new place and the sparrows still haven’t found the bird feeder yet. There are a couple of stray kittens that have stolen my heart and it feels good to shower love with such abandon. The roses continue to bloom as do the jasmines with their heady night scents. The season is beautiful with cool winds and a touch of music as the heart meets the head.

We call him muttbaby 1

In the Iyengar yoga world, there is much excitement with the centenary celebrations and I do hope to make it for atleast one of the days. But, mostly, my offering has been quiet study and fledgling practice. The surprising thing has been the powerful recall of cell memory as I get on the mat.

The Gita continues to be a trusted companion and in the lines I have read many times, I rediscover their beauty all over again albeit with a different flavour. Our interpretations are always coloured by life experiences, always a cumulative of all moments until now.

An alternate set of circumstances has shown a different translation of the same meanings. A year of painful transition or perhaps transformation, only time will tell. For now, it’s a slow beginning once more with nothing the same and everything just so.

I’ve been drawn to the imagery of Patanjali as half man and it has been a focus of contemplation. What does it mean to be human? The bodily representation. of Patanjali as man consists of the trunk resting on the coils of his serpentine half. An ascension of energies possible in a physical structure. A lightness of being in the denseness of existence.

I remain a wandering student destined for self-study and it’s just beginning to dawn on me that maybe it’s liberating. Of course, it also means a lot of wrong turns and a longer time to learn but the journey is worth it. But, it wouldn’t be possible without the wisdom and generosity of knowledge of the giants who came before me. I remain indebted to my many teachers.

Hari Om

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.

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.

FullSizeRender

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

 

 

Srishti-Sthithi-Laya

The branch droops low

Heavy with Gulmohurs

Their reds bursting

In fiery passion

The old woman

Passes by

Stooped in age

Burnt in grey

The koels sing

Songs of mangoes

As they invade

Summer days

The old man

Twitches and turns

Blinks and drools

Spitting gibberish

A leaf dies

Even as one births

And another yellows

Srishti-Sthithi-Laya

Tremorless Yoga

I’ve come to my favourite chapter in the Bhagawad Gita, the one that always gives me goosebumps, perhaps a reflection of my true inclinations.

Verse 7 jumped out at me with its commentary and it made me look up other translations. Nothing matched the piercing sharpness of this one which found echoes in the usual definitions of yoga.

“He, who in truth knows these manifold manifestations of My being (Macrocosm), and (this) YOGA-power of Mine (Microcosm), becomes established in the ‘tremorless-YOGA’; there is no doubt about it.”

None spoke of tremorless yoga, they spoke about peace or yoga but not this particular rendition of ‘tremorless’ yoga. The footnote mentions the usual two shlokas defining yoga as well as third not commonly heard. They are

2:48- Samatwam Yoga Uchyate

2:50- Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam

6:23- Dukha-samyoga-viyogam Yogasamjnitam

In the meanwhile, I’m going to stay and play with the word vikampena, tremorless. A little lingering on the word conjures up a couple of images, the first of which is an earthquake and the second nervous debility. Both occurrences leave devastation in their wake and cannot be anything but unsteady and uncomfortable. In both cases, there needs a settling first of the instability before repair and reconstruction is possible.

Isn’t the disturbance of the mind nothing short than a seismic occurrence and in the case of chronic nervous dysfunction, a series of rumblings. How can one build on a shaky ground? It needs levelling, settling, making foundations that resist and a structure that absorbs without crumbling down. A lot like the basics of asana. I’m looking forward to a beginners class in addition to the therapy class, come June. A couple of fellow students didn’t understand why I didn’t ask for my earlier Intermediate class but this is what I want. To start again. All over again, an experience of rebuilding from ground zero.

The previous verses open the symbolism of the Seven Seers and Four Ancients as the material and efficient causes of the macrocosmic and microcosmic worlds. The personification of many deities, sages and other beings obscured the depth of their mystic significances and they remain hidden in plain sight until we are graced with the Guru’s blessings.

I’ve been struggling in my practice, no longer a sadhana since it is not sharp and unwavering. This too is a phase of learning, despair, doubt and the stoicism all part of a lesson beyond the initial excitement of the journey. I was lucky to have a good, long run of discovery. I reckon right about now is probably time for the first Sutra😊

In the meanwhile, the Gayatri has revealed the peace of ‘Om’, the pranava and it’s a far more fuller experience than before. It reminded me of a story I read somewhere. The devas went to Brahma and asked him to enlighten them and he gave them the Vedas, they thought it was too hard. He then gave them the Gayatri Manyra which also was too much. So he told them to meditate on the vyahritis but they found that was also very difficult. He then initiated them into Om and that was enough. I don’t recollect where I read it or perhaps it was a talk. I’ll edit this post when I find out.

The world around me continues to spin in much agony and I found myself incapable of the necessary detachment. I sought answers in the divine song and the culminating verses of the previous chapter provided solace.

As always, I remain grateful for Gurus who are present through their words, long after they have passed on. They are the devas I offer pranams to in my heart.

Hari Om

Note- Translations quoted are from the Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda on the Holy Geeta.

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