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.

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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

 

 

Beginning at the End

यत्र योगेश्वर: कृष्णो यत्र पार्थो धनु्र्धर:।

तत्र श्रीर्विजयो भूतिर्ध्रुवा नीतिर्मतिर्मम।।७८।

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.

Bhagawad Geeta 18:78

– Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

Today is Geeta Jayanti, the day the Divine Song is said to have been given to us. The Institute had a talk organised on the occasion and it was a blessing to listen to Geetaji touch upon many aspects of yog as mentioned in the Geeta as well as the Yog Sutras.

She wound up on the significance of the title of the last chapter , Moksha Sanyasa Yoga after taking us through the paths of Karma, Bhakti and Jnana laid out through the entire 700 odd shlokas. That made me come back home and look up the last verse in my copy (mentioned above). Swami Chinmayananda breaks down each of the phrases to bring out its significance. One part of his interpretation in particular stood out and made me think of how seamlessly the last verse tied up with the opening verse. “… Yogeshwarah Krishna could have achieved nothing on the battlefield of Kurukshetra without the Pandava Prince, Arjuna, ARMED AND READY TO FIGHT.’

The opening verse of the Geeta commences with the words ‘ धर्मक्षेत्रे कुरुक्षेत्रे ‘ and is where we are introduced to the array of mighty warriors on both sides. A battlefield. At the peak of Arjuna’s prowess as a powerful Kshatriya, he requests his Charioteer, Lord Krishna to draw his chariot between the two armies to see who he would be up against. He sees family, teachers and at the moment when he is to rise to his glory, falls into the depths of despair and despondency. It is a chapter that I come back to because I find myself in that state often. Despite the giving up of arms at the end of the chapter, he rises through his charioteer to fight the battle of his life.

In the symbolism of charioteer and warrior, I find similarities of our true selves and deluded selves. As warriors of the spirit, it is upto us to ride into the battle with absolute faith and surrender to the charioteer. Arjuna was at his peak when he was hit by depression. It could happen to us too. What do we do then? Trust the charioteer. Even the adepts are not spared. It is a theme that appears in the Yog Sutras too and the twin pillars of abhyasa and vairagya are the way through the struggles of sadhana.

This brings me back to the last lines of the Divine Song which talks about the presence of both the Supreme and the Human. It is only in this two legged embodiment that we can find our way in to the ‘Purusha‘. The realisation of the ‘tattva gyana‘ as Geetaji said and it is possible only through Prakriti. To use her words again, ‘words limit us’. It does, doesn’t it. How can I describe the joy that is an explosion or the dark despair of the heartin mere language?

In gratitude

The body as a Mirror

The soles fascinates me endlessly. I know not its anatomy. I know not the names of its intricate structures. Yet, it speaks to me. It reflects how I feel and think. Some times it is sure and steady while at others there is a flightiness. Some times it is doubt and at others it is shaky. Rarely, if ever, is it evenly balanced. There are times my entire practice revolves around tadasana and I still don’t scratch the surface of this foundational pose.

forever in tadasana

Today’s class had our teacher prodding us to see how different parts of the body could be a mirror for actions in other parts. He articulated it in a beautiful way, “The bottom of your foot is a mirror!”.  Perhaps it is barefoot running that has heightened my sense of the soles. They speak quite loudly. There is a kind of auto-correct that happens when running barefoot, it is difficult to run sloppily without shoes. The entire body is alert and it is a light and compact experience. There is communication that happens between the soles and rest of the body as I move. I never felt like that in shoes. Barefoot, there is a lot of respect for the field of experience, it is the ground beneath the feet that commands. Quite similar to our lives when one thinks about it. 

Our situations and capabilities mark the field where we struggle, explore and transform our life patterns. I can’t fight the field but if I work within its limitations, there is the possibility of freedom. 

Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage

Exploring the theme of mirrors, the body reflects the mind and vice versa. As a student, it is a little easier to work with the body and see the changes reflect in the mind rather than the other way around. Moving the legs are more accessible than shifting my thought patterns defined and coloured by Prakriti.

I’ve been drawn to the Tattvas repeatedly of late and it is interesting to see how this system accounts for the universe at large and the individual embodiment. The sheer scale of subjective understanding of the ancient ones is mind boggling and all this was intuitively experienced! That makes me believe it is possible for us to be what we truly are.

Man awakened to the Self’s Glory is God; God forgetful of His own glory is the deluded man!

-Swami Chinmayananda

Hari Om 

Gunas and Doshas

Despite a heavy few weeks at work, I have had a good few practice sessions at home. Perhaps that kept me going through some intense projects with a clear and sharp head. There are old flaws that have revealed themselves yet again and my recent readings have shed light on those areas. 

Chapter 14 in the Bhagwad Gita talks about the gunas and it set off a lot of connective thoughts regarding the Doshas and Tattvas. Swami Chinmayananda explains gunas as ‘the “attitude” with which the mind functions’ rather than “properties“. 

“Many a seeker ends his brilliant and promising spiritual career because, on his way to self-perfection, he develops “engine trouble,” and, not knowing why his mind behaves in the peculiar fashion, he gets victimised by lust or passion and suffers from the sorrows of his spiritual fall. A knowledge of this chapter assures us of a steady progress on our path, as it introduces us to the secret methods of the mind on all occasions.”

– Swami Chinmayananda in his commentary on The Holy Geeta

In a very personal context, I thought of my instant and almost overpowering attraction towards barefoot running. It was love at first sparsha!  Constitutionally, I would be considered predominantly vata and that explains the affinity towards running and the need for grounding with Mother Earth. The contact with the ground is a powerful connection when I run.  That is also when I feel closest to everything that lives. With the air element in excess, having the grounding of the earth is a good way to balance the flightiness, despite the movement.

all elements at play on a run…

Work has been very interesting although time and thought consuming. As much as I try to reduce my involvement, situations force me to step right back in. I guess I should stop trying to do so and embrace it wholly. Truth be told, I enjoy what I do and seeing the organization evolve into a solid business from the start-up that it was. The founder is a wonderful man and we have a small yet passionate team. In retrospect, being associated with the company has been instrumental in a change in my food habits as well. I’ve donned many hats at this place and enjoy the flexibility it provides to manage my home as well as get to class. The office is about 500m from my place which is a huge time saver. So, what am I really fighting?

The girls at work still make it for our weekly session of yoga and I actually enjoy sharing what I know. At the same time, I wonder if I should continue, considering that I am not a teacher. But, it has settled into a routine now and the best part is all of them practise regularly at home too. One of the girls said that she felt more focused and confident and that her brother also practises everyday. It is worrying and promising at the same time about how things get transmitted. Yet somewhere I think that if they are sincere, the practice will teach them. I receive far more than they do everytime I show them something. It forces me to revise my basics, read up on the asanas and keep it simple. I can now see how the big actions we learnt last year were important now that we are looking at the next set of actions in an intermediate class. Back then, if I adjusted my shoulders in tadasana, I lost the attention in my knees and the actions would happen in a sort of sequence. It was like learning to drive, quite exhausting to remember all the coordinated moves. Now, it’s more like a simultaneous set of adjustments. 

Yoga has blessed me with great energy and enthusiasm. It doesn’t strike me how much, until I step back and review all that I do. And then it is humbling because I know it is not on my steam but that which chooses to express through me.

Hari Om

Of flow and restraint

It is time for the inevitable period of flux as things begin to shift yet again. Friday’s class felt vey silent inside despite all the lively comments by our teacher. We did mostly a backbend prep with salabhasana and a touch-and-go ustrasana. It was followed by a quiet supta virasana and baddakonasana before wrapping up in savasana. On Saturday, I had a fun home practice of Surya Namaskars with my little girl followed by a revision of Friday’s class. Sunday saw me spending time on the texts. 

Three days, three different moods, three different practices. Underlying all of them is my difficulty with japa sadhana. On an objective level, I see the play of an active rajoguna in all aspects of my life, starting with my morning breath. For the first time, I had an experential sense of how the breath controls the mind. Guruji’s quote, “Breath is the king of the mind” communicates this perfectly. 

As always I find the answers to my struggles readily available in the books of great masters. There are no superfluous words in the commentaries and each word speaks volumes.

From the Yog Sutras

व्युत्थाननिरोधसंस्कारयोरभिभदप्रादुर्भावौ निरोधक्षणचित्तान्वयो निरोधपरिणामः ।९।

Study of the silent moments between rising and restraining subliminal impressions is the transformation of consciousness towards restraint (nirodha parinamah)

Guruji explains, But at first, it is difficult to educate the consciousness to restrain each rising thought. It is against the thought current (pratipaksha) and hence creates restlessness, whereas the movement from restraint towards rising thought is with the current (paksha), and brings restfulness. The first method requires force of will and so is tinged with rajas. The second is slightly sattvic, but tinged with tamas. To transform the consciousness into a pure sattvic state of dynamic silence, we must learn by repeated effort to prolong the intermissions.

– Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar

From the Bhagwad Geeta

श्रीभगवानुवाच
असंशयं महाबाहो मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम्
अभ्यासेन तु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते।।३५।।
The Blessed Lord said: Undoubtedly, O mighty-armed one, the mind is difficult to control and is restless; but, by practice, O Son of Kunti, and by dispassion, it is restrained.

Swamiji explains, Through practice and renunciation, the mind can be brought under control in the beginning, and ultimately to a perfect ‘halt’ – this is the confident, reassuring declaration of the Lord in the Geeta.

Thus viewed, practice (Abhyasa) srengthens renunciation (Sannyasa), which generates detachment (Vairagya), and which in turn deepens meditation (Abhyasa). Hand in hand, each strengthens the other. Thus the total progress is steadily maintained. 

From the moment we start trying to become aware of our own lives, we are in the realm of ‘practice'(Abhyasa). As a result of this, the detachment that comes automatically to us is the true and enduring ‘detachment’ (Vairagya).

When through right “practice” enduring “detachment” has come into our inner lives, then, the mind comes under our control.

– Commentary on The Holy Geeta by Swami Chinmayananda

It all boils down to abhyasa and vairagyam. One cannot exist without the other and unless there is balance between the two the scales are forever in vritti.  It makes me think of the parallels of guna in the two essentials of sadhana. Without Vairagyam, there is excessive rajas and without the right abhyasa, there is the dullness of tamas. In the equal marriage of the two, there is a predominance of sattva, where the magic happens.

This kind of a stuck phase is a familiar one when there is change happening in the background. I don’t know what kind of change is in progress when it appears as though there is stagnation but eventually, the butterfly emerges and flutters before plunging into another cycle of destruction and birth. 

Hari Om

Study material and references from

  1. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar
  2. The Holy Geeta Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

An end and a beginning

The countdown to yoga day has started and there has never been a better time for the business. Yoga studios to media channels have their hot topic for the week to make some noise. A month from now, it will all fade away until next year. It is interesting to see how things have changed in terms of consumption of entertainment and information. Bite sized bytes, dizzying imagery and a need to be on top of news as it happens. Fast food for the mind. 

It is easy to lament the degradation of spiritual endeavour. It is also easy to join the bandwagon of those who make this opportunistic. But, when I stop to consider the scene, it really doesn’t matter. The times we live in must be similar to the times when knowledge got obscured. Yet, it survived and revived. The cycle of birth and death. Paradoxically, we now have more information accessible at the tip of our fingers. But how much do we really know? 

Today’s reading was a new definition of yoga from the Bhagwad Gita.

chapter 6:23
Swami Chinmayananda’s commentary on this shloka defines yoga as “a state of disunion from every union-with-pain”. The translation continues to emphasise, “This Yoga should be practised with determination and with a mind steady and undespairing”. The explanation of these  lines beautifully brings out the idea of Yoga as a goal and Yoga as the means. 

In the context of the hype surrounding International Yoga day, there is hope. Yoga began as a means for me too, a way out of pain. As I stumbled in my attempts to ‘practise’, it blessed me with a tiny glimpse into what was possible. Slowly but surely, the path started to lead me, one step at a time. It is thanks to my teachers and all those who have gone before me that I continue to seek within. If it were not for the legacy of the wisdom of great masters through their writings, I would still be groping in the dark. For that, I remain eternally grateful.

Hari Om