Satyam, Tapas, Svadhyaya

I woke up in a rebellious state of mind, not wanting to practise. And then decided to continue reading the Taittiriya Upanishad. It was the best thing I could have done. What an uplifting read! It never fails to inspire, these ancient texts. Such conciseness, poetry and power, almost as though just the shapes and sounds of their syllables can change something inside. Although I’ve been reading just little portions, one section or theme at a time, today, I found myself reading more than usual.

One of the interesting things amongst many others in today’s reading was from Section 9 in the first chapter. A blue print for living as a continuum of study, practice and passing on. I found parallels in the study, practice and passing on of my understanding. In an earlier section, there is a fervent desire for material prosperity and the desire for students. I felt that the implied sense was that as long as material needs were met, the dissemination of knowledge to deserving students could occur. In the guru-shishya parampara, there were no fees, only a guru dakshina on the completion of one’s education. That has a lot of resonance in my beliefs too.

Since the passage was very beautiful and a reminder, I think I will write it down here too.

The practice of what is right and proper (ritam), as fixed by the scriptural texts, is to be done along with reading the texts oneself and propagating the truths of the same.

‘Truth’ (satyam), meaning practising in life what is understood to be right and proper, is to be pursued along with regular studies and preaching.

Penance (tapah), study (svadhyaya) and preaching (pravachane);

Control of the senses (dama), study and preaching;

tranquility (shama), study and preaching;

the ‘maintenance of fire (agneya)’, study and preaching;

offering of oblations in fire sacrifice (agnihotram), study and preaching of the Vedas;

serving the guest (athithayaha), study and preaching;

the performance of duties towards man (maanusham), study and preaching;

duties towards children (prajaha), study and preaching of the vedas;

procreation (prajanah), study and preaching;

propagation of the race (prajahitih), study and preaching;

all these things are to be practised sincerely.

Satyavaca, son of Rathitara, holds that truth (satyam) alone is to be strictly practised. Taponitys, son of Purusista declares that penance (tapas) alone is to be practised. Naka, son od Mudgaa, holds the view that the study and preaching of the Vedas (svadhyaya) alone is to be practised; that verily, is penance; aye that is penance.

The translations are a bit archaic but the Sanskrit is more inclusive and can accommodate the realities of the times that we live in. Study and preaching are svadhyaya and pravachane and can be also interpreted as self study and expression or interpretation. Seen in the context of the origin of the name of the Upanishad, Taittiriya, it is apt as the dissemination of experienced knowledge. What a beautiful guidebook for educationists! The image in the post is the story of how this Upanishad got its name.

Image from the commentary on the Taittiriya Upanishad by Swami Chinmayananda

Some of the 12 steps could be interpreted differently in the changed contexts of human behaviour and lives today. Like procreation and propagation of the race. The choice to not have children etc. also can be seen in the light of the sheer need for a reduction in the burden on the planet. In the evolution of humankind, the reasons for procreation turned to be economical rather than evolutionary and hence this changed approach today is perhaps essential for balance. The 12 indications are good cues for contemplation in how they may be interpreted in our lives now.

This Upanishad was the very first one I read and attempted to study a few years back and it made a huge impression on me then. Subsequently, I have dipped into it off and on but this current revisiting is like reading it all over again with eyes wide open in wonder.

And also the next section which is such a song of joy and freedom!

‘I am the stimulator in the tree of universe. My fame (glory) is high as the peak of the mountains. High and pure am I like the essence in the sun; I am the power and the wealth, effulgent with intuition. Intelligent, imperishable and undecaying am I’- this is the sacred recitation of Trishanku after he realized the Truth.

And part of the commentary- Trishanku rightly declares that to know ourselves, to complete our rediscovery, to realize our divine nature, to live as God in ourselves, is the only harbour wherein the frail mind shall no more be exposed to the storms of contentions and the surging waves of desires for wealth or temptations for power.

Much of my writing is really an endeavour to ‘rediscover’ not ‘discover’, what is usually referred to as cleaning the mirror. This just may end up going up on my wall as a constant reminder on how to live a full life of service.

My heart feels lighter for having read this today and the encouragement to live exalted is just what this tired spirit needed.

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

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

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)


संसारादचिराद्भव मुक्त:।


द्रक्ष्यसि निजह्रदयस्थं देवं।।३१।।
Hari Om

Image courtesy: Rupali – a fellow student at RIMYI

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

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

Constant, change, changeless

Swami Chinmayananda explains the first part of the first shloka in the Aiteraya Upanishad saying, “Constant change can be maintained only upon a changeless substratum.” The first time I read this sentence, it was an experience, like switching on a light. It has since stayed with me and the more I think about it, I find myself watching the ‘change’ that is ‘constant’ in my ‘changeless’ life. It’s such a wonderful play of words, almost like the vyahritis, the pranava which are suggestive of the 3 states, 3 gunas, 3 doshas etc. Everytime I read the books, I marvel at how beautifully the rishis expressed thought and experience.

The period of my mini-retreat is over and there is a changed routine which will change further once school reopens. The seasons roll on and summer will soon morph into the monsoon and the mangoes will go out of season. The dry summer heat is already fading in the evenings hinting at the rains to come, just like our human lives. It’s interesting how we use space to define time which is the indicative in the second part of the first shloka. All these insights into the nature of existence was known through a purely subjective experience!

Story of Mahidasa on the back cover

ऊँ आत्मा वा इदमेक एवाग्र आसीत् ।
नान्यत्-किञ्चन मिषत् ।
स ईक्षत लोकान्नु सृजा इति ।। १ ।।

In the beginning, verily, Atman (Self) alone was this (the universe)… nothing else was active whatsoever… He thought I shall indeed create the worlds.

The word ‘miṣat’ at the end of the second line caught my fancy. Swami Chinmayananda explains the word as ‘winking’ and it is very thought provoking. As I contemplate the word, it suggests twinkling which leads to stars, the Sun and the Gayatri mantra and I come back to the heart, the changeless substratum. Just a word to roam the universe and come back to myself. I like to think of the heart as the abode of that Self, at one with the cosmic beating of the universe. The grandeur of just the seen universe is awe inspiring even as life, as I know it, goes on with traffic, chores and the sundry activities of everyday life. We take the many celestial movements for granted without stopping to think of the intelligence behind them that animates our existence. The predawn contemplation hours are magical and sacred and I cradle them within.

Once I enter in to the day’s work, I am caught in the flow of moments. Again, time and space. That same keen awareness is lost but there is a sharpness, a clarity in the thinking which allows me to be more productive. I suppose the abhyasa is to bring that awareness moment by moment into each and every space of my being.

May I be a worthy student to the teachers, mortal and eternal.

Hari Om

Image and Study material: Aitareya Upanishad- Commentary by Swami Chinmayanada