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

रहसि Rahasi 

योगी युञ्जीत सततमात्मानं रहसि स्थितः।

एकाकी यतचित्तात्मा निराशीरपरिग्रहः ।। १०।।

” Let the YOGI try constantly to keep the mind steady, remaining in solitude, alone, with the mind and body controlled, free from hope and greed.”

‘… the word solitude (Rahasi) suggests a meaning of secretiveness, indicating that religion should not be a broadcast of self-advertisement, but must be a set of true values of life, secretly practised within the heart, ordering our way of thinking and encouraging our pursuit of the nobler values in life.’

– Swami Chinmayananda in his commentary on The Holy Gita

Some words jump at me when I read or write. Today’s word for contemplation happens to be Rahasi. In Malayalam, rahasyam means secret too. In my opinion, mystic would probably be a more appropriate translation. The thoughts and insights of the Scriptures and sages are not secret, just protected from sacrilege. They are hidden in the open and make themselves available to those who seek. 

I found this shloka from the Gita (chapter 6) full of positive direction. There is abhyasa and vairagya and it is a very clear instruction on how to practise. At first appearance, it seems ascetic but just below the words is a relevance to an everyday seeking. As always, I am amazed at the brevity and depth of the shlokas, despite a novice’s mind. There is a deep sense of gratitude for the teachers and masters who have made this ancient wisdom relevant and available to these times.

There is change in how I share about my sadhana. I have an inkling now as to why there is so little available in terms of a personal experience. Sometimes I question my continuing desire to blog, but for now, it is a form of expression, a longing to sing my contentment and wonder. Sharing my journey feels like paying a debt of gratitude, of leaving whatever I have been graced with. 

Mornings are the perfect time to spend in reading and contemplating as the body and mind are fresh and alert. Japa sadhana in the early hours followed by reading is very conducive to a clearer mind. It has worked for me to understand a little better, more from the heart and less from the head. As a practice, it establishes a point of reference for the day as I plunge into my tasks. 

Today’s task begins with a new yoga class.

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.

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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

Karma Yog

2:45- The VEDAS deal with the three attributes; be you above these three attributes (GUNAS), O Arjuna, free yourself from the pairs-of-opposites, and ever remain in the SATTWA (goodness), freed from all thoughts of acquisition and preservation, and be established in the Self.

2:46- To the BRAHMANA who has known the Self, all the VEDAS are of so much use, as is a reservoir of water in a place where there is flood everywhere.

2:47- Thy right is to work only, never to its fruits; let not the fruit-of-action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction.

A real Karma Yogin is one who understands: (a) that his concern is with action alone; (b) that he has no concern with results; (c) that he should not entertain the motive of gaining a fixed fruit for a given action; and (d) that these ideas do not mean that he should sit back courting inaction.

– Swami Chinmayananda in his commentary on The Gita

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Bhagavad Gita 2:45-47

Writing a few shlokas everyday is a good exercise in bringing my mind to focus. These lines were today’s exercise and I stopped mid-way as the commentary was a clarion call. These three shlokas insist, illuminate and inspire. As I read the explanation for the first of the three, I felt there was an important message to listen to. The subsequent verses reinforced the intuition and I stopped for the day. There is more than enough to ruminate for ever.

Since the last couple of weeks, I have been living two lives. By day I work very hard to get things in order at the place I am working so that I can work fewer hours from June. By night and early morning, I am a hermit, reading, writing, contemplating, practising. My daughter is on a holiday and I have company only on the weekends when my husband visits. It is almost like being on a retreat. I sit for japa and it feels like I am in a forest with just birdsong. I will have a few more weeks of this life and it feels like a blessing to be relieved of my regular household duties for a while.
The shlokas I read today, especially the last one connected very strongly to my japa sadhana. There is change in the practice. For one, I do 24 repetitions now and the more notable one is an ability to stay with the words/meaning as I chant. Reading the commentary before beginning japa has helped to create a mental environment to bring a focus, an attention to the present. Somewhere I suppose I have stopped expecting anything to be visible and am settled into just seeing, observing, witnessing. Everyday there is a reinforcement of the literal meaning and a tentative exploration into the superimposed ideas.
The other day, I was chatting with a fellow practitioner and he mentioned that he wanted to first study the Sutras, then the Gita and so on. My study has been multiple texts, a little at a time and very often I find parallels in them. This helps in understanding some of the thoughts although I still feel it is very much on an intellectual level. But as the book says, my right is only to labour. If I stop to think about it, just the study itself provides immense satisfaction in the heart.

Hari Om

Beginning at the end

I write a little Sanskrit most days and it is a useful exercise in slowing down enough to read and reflect. Quite recently, I started a journal (like the ones we had in school) and started to make my own copy of the texts. There is plenty to write and no deadline so I am slowly working through different texts.

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360 pages - a page a day for a year

The first chapter of the Gita has been completed and I was contemplating its importance in the book. At first glance it appears like a lot of background and subsequently Arjuna’s grief. Why begin with despondency? Why not get into the second chapter straight?
From a literary perspective, continuity as it is part of the great epic but I guess it also creates the necessary background for the teachings.
If I stop and consider, I have been Arjuna-like in my dejection. All of us are warriors of the spirit but we lose sight of it and sink into listless inaction. It is only when the pain of not changing is greater than the resistance to change that transformation can begin. In this  case, it was Arjuna’s mental turmoil and pain that made him ripe to receive. That’s pretty much how I was drawn to Vedanta too. Pain of watching my father-in-law die slowly of Parkinson’s disease, pain of an emptiness despite having everything, pain of my father’s passing away. That was a year of tumult, within and without. I needed  something to make sense of the storm raging in my mind.
The shloka mentioned in the image is from the last part of Chapter 18.
Thus, the ‘Wisdom’ which is a greater secret than all secrets, has been declared to you by Me; having reflected upon it fully, you now act as you choose.
Translation by Swami Chinmayananda

Contemplation is at the heart of the shastras. Perhaps that is why they are so concise. They are an invitation to explore and experience for oneself and not just believe blindly, although I suppose that may also work. In the context of my inclinations, it helps me soak in the words, sounds and texture as they become familiar. Taking them one or two at a time and letting it stew for a few days is also a mental exercise, developing endurance to stay with a sadhana. Am I hurtling down the road? It doesn’t feel like it. I still go through my everyday life quite contentedly. It feels as though I were a  dormant seed that has suddenly sprouted and is in its initial shooting out of the ground. All the months and years that have passed seem to have been to get the conditions right for it to take root. May I ever remain a student.

Hari Om