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.

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

 

 

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

Imprints

Last class started with adho mukha svanasana in the rope. We rarely do it considering the number of students. However, it is an everyday pose for me at home as I slip into the ropes for a quick release and recharge. While the rope cut in for most students, it was a familiar sensation associated with relief from pain for me. One of the students remarked how the imprint of it was felt even after. That deep impression was missing for me, perhaps it is the familiarity with the cutting action. Or maybe, just a tolerance for discomfort.

On the other hand, I did find a great deal of opening in my knees. As an asana, I’ve seen it as a bare minimum if I cannot practise everyday. But, most of the time, I think of keeping the legs straight and releasing the back. I’ve never considered it as something to address the knees. One of the things our teacher says is to use the pose for your problem areas, be it the knees, back, shoulder etc. It’s so easy to forget all the things I remember from class when I get on my mat at home.

Often, the imprints of practising in a certain manner carry on without my realising it. Just like the imprints of thought patterns, behaviour tendencies etc. Externally, I am working but it is not with awareness or intelligence. It’s just repetition and a little increase in range of motion. Going through the motions of life without really being aware with every thought, word and deed. Sure, repetition makes actions easier and change happens. But, transformation needs imprints of a different kind to channel his will, not mine. I think it is more of a removal of all imprints to allow the full expression of the Self. Definitely not in this lifetime. Vasanas give rise to desires which in turn are responsible for the agitations in the mind, as Swamiji says. 

I’ve found myself quite in the grip of these ‘tendencies‘ yet again. It’s so easy to slide back while the climb is painfully slow. So, I turn back to the texts. I find writing/ typing them therapeutic. (Phase 1 of my reference project is almost at an end.) As always, the brilliance of the Divine Song is beyond compare and calms my heart. It kindles hope. Arjuna’s doubts are my doubts; his despondency, mine. As are his curiosity, awe, and all other emotions. It never fails to make me stand up and fight, even if it be for just a moment. How can one not, when the charioteer blows his conch?

Image: part of the book cover of Jaya by Devdutt Patnaik
Hari Om

स्वाध्यायादिष्टदेवतासंप्रयोग:।।४४।।

It is hard to let go, really let go. Running was a crutch in many ways. Sure, it made me feel good, it made me feel strong, it made me push beyond what I thought I was capable. Yet, at the core of it is deep seated ahamkara. Pride in one’s effort and the result. The extent of that is apparent when one of my wishes is to be a world class athlete in my next life! Of course, I want to be a devout yoga sadhaka as well but the first instinct is a desire for that which satisfies the ego.

The last few days have been difficult. Pain and its associated mental turmoil. Yesterday, I decided to just stop and let go. Last night as I lay down to sleep with a bolster beneath my knees, it struck me that all the Savasana prompts that kept cropping up lately were a prep for this period in time. My body and mind need the rejuvenation that this asana gives in such abundance. My mind had worked itself into a frenzy and predictably the body grew tense and the heart heavy. I could only see what was denied to me and not what is available. I forgot to bring a spirit of enquiry with me, forgot that pain is a teacher!

Sometimes I wish for the ease that people enjoy in congregational worship. It seems so natural when they get together to do puja, pray or sing. Recently, I was at a church for a wedding and the choir was heavenly. A mix of folks from different cultures across the country, all coming together in beautiful melody. It took me back to my days as a child when I used to be part of a choir. I’ve almost always been a loner, mostly by choice and at times because life would push me back to navigating on my own even when I would attempt being part of a group. This pattern goes way back in my history, around the  early teenage years. I suppose that’s why Eklavya appeals to me. There is something about that Nishada living wild with his guru firmly entrenched in his heart that resounds with me. Often, I think that Guruji in my heart is like how the clay likeness of Dronacharya was for the archer who was probably greater than Arjuna. Eklavya’s story is an anonymous one, hidden in the periphery of civilisation. There is much to learn from his character but that’s a separate reflection. There’s an old post sketching his story in the Mahabharata that I had written a while ago. (click to read

I think of going to a temple on certain days, like today, but then don’t because of the crowd. I prefer to go on quiet days when there is no one. I don’t know the order of worship, nor the offerings to be made. I just sit, seeing the idol until it feels like time to get up, sort of like how I come out of savasana. In my heart, I offer a full prostration but have nothing as an offering except myself. I go empty since nothing is mine. I drop in some money at the box and leave, accepting the prasad. Shivratri is one such day and I have the auspicious one in my heart. 

अचिन्त्यमव्यक्तमनन्तरूपं शिवं प्रशान्तममृतं ब्रह्मयोनिम। तथाऽऽदिमध्यान्तविहीनमेकं विभुं चिदानन्दमरूपमद्भुतम्।।६।। उमासहायं परमेश्वरं प्रभुं त्रिलोचनं नीलकण्ठं प्रशान्तम्। ध्यात्वा मुनिर्गच्छति भूतयोनिं समस्तसाक्षिं तमस: परस्तात् ।।७।। एतस्माज्जायते प्राणो मन: सर्वेन्द्रियाणि च। खं वायुर्ज्योतिराप: पृथिवी विश्वस्य धारिणी।।१५।।

 Translation from the commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

6. The unthinkable, the unmanifest, the One of endless forms, the ever auspicious, the peaceful, the immortal, the origin of the very Creator, the One without a beginning, a middle and an end, the only One, the all-pervading, the Knowledge-Bliss, the formless, and the wonderful.

7.By meditating upon Lord Parameśvara consorted by mother Umā, the highest Lord, the all-powerful, the three eyed, the blue necked and the ever tranquil, a true man of reflection reaches Him, who is the source of all the manifested world, the witness of all and the One who is beyond all darkness.

15. From Him are born the prāna (life), the mind (antahkarana), all the organs (indriyani), the sky (akāsa), the wind (vāyu), the fire (jyotih), the water (āpah) and the earth (prithivi). He is the supporter of everything.

Om Namah Shivaya

Light

Sometimes it feels unreal, coming out of savasana. I roll the mat, get out of the room and am swept into the current of the day. The mat, though, is a different experience. Within its boundaries, there is space and time. Today’s thought stayed with me for most of the day.


ज्योतिषामपि तज्ज्योतिस्तमस: परमुच्यते।

ज्ञानं ज्ञेयं ज्ञानगम्यं हृदि सर्वस्य विष्ठितम् ।।१८।।

That (BRAHMAN), the Light-of-all lights, is said to be beyond darkness; (It is) Knowledge, the Object-of-Knowledge, seated in the hearts of all, to be reached by Knowledge.

Translation by Swami Chinmayananda 

Swamiji begins his commentary on this shloka by saying- “Brahman, the illuminator in all, is the One Consciousness by which everything is known intellectually, realized intuitively, and experienced spiritually.” The different touch points in this short verse paint the entire cosmos within and without. As always, the clarity and beauty of the words of masters never fails to fill me with awe.

The Gayatri mantra is an invocation to the same illuminator who resides within. In his commentary, Sri Shankaracharya speaks about meditating on the source of illumination of the Sun. His brief explanation provides many facets for contemplation on the one light that lights all. It is no coincidence that we speak of the realized ones as enlightened or illumined. Guruji’s books also use Light in their titles…

All light is one

न तत्र सूर्यो भाति न चन्द्रतारकं नेमा विध्युतो भान्ति कुतोऽयमग्नि:।

तमेव भान्तमनुभाति सर्वं तस्य भासा सर्वमिदं विभाति ।।१४।।

The sacred texts and commentaries take their time to seep in- Intellectually, Intuitively and Spiritually. Yogasana is also like that. The head and the heart, culminating in the union of both to transcend. 

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

Straight from the Heart

Two trips to the Institute yesterday. One for class, one for the Guru Pournima celebrations. Back bends and prostrations. Both filled my heart. 

The program began with the traditional invocation to Sage Patanjali and the Guru Brahma chant. It was followed by a beautiful dramatization of a series of conversations between 2 practitioners. Abhijata and Raya enacted the roles or rather spoke from the heart. The script was probably not necessary for them if their voices were anything to go by, almost as though everything they narrated, happened to them. Through their dialogue interspersed with some asana demonstration and video clippings, we were treated to some pearls of Guruji’s wisdom. Some things made me go “yes, I’ve felt that” and then I question if it is possible since I am so young in yoga. I too have felt the timelessness spoken about in paschimottanasana or janu sirsasana for the tiniest moments but then I am still very raw, so is it real? It doesn’t matter.

There was a quote by Guruji in the presentation that has stayed in my head since yesterday, “Does the flower fall from the tree of its own free will or does the tree abandon it?” 

Little K’s sketch on the program. I love the stick people doing asanas…

Geetaji released the latest Yoga Rahasya and spoke a few words at the end, reminding us all to preserve what Guruji has given us.

commemorating 50 years of Light on Yoga

The format of a dialogue between 2 practitioners was very interesting and got me thinking about my peers. Perhaps it would be nice to discuss the subject to find a different perspective. However, that is very limited since I wait for someone else to initiate a conversation. It’s nice when it happens but I’m equally content staying in silence. Perhaps, it is because I get my sense of community and fellowship through this blog. I receive encouragement and experience, unconditionally shared, that nudges me to explore in ways I don’t usually do. Online pilgrims on the same journey…

I wonder who did Guruji share with? Of course, millions of people through his books and teachings but that happened much later in his life. As a beginner, who did he share with? Today’s reading from Gaudapada’s Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad (commentary by Swami Chinmayananda) had a very beautiful line and I found my answer.

अस्पर्शयोगो वै नाम सर्वसत्त्वसुखो हितः।

अविवादो ऽ विरुद्वश्च देशितस्तं नमाम्यहम् ।।२।।

“I salute that yoga of detachment which is called asparsha, (lit. no touch, in other words, having no relationship with anything, at any time), which is taught through scriptures, which promotes the happiness of all, which is conducive to the well-being of all, which is beyond all disputes and which is at once free from strife and contradiction.”

The commentary by Swamiji states- In the case of Asparsha yoga, it being mainly the inward development of the individual, accomplished in the secret caves of the heart, it is never painful to others and it is ever good for the individual concerned.

The beauty of Guruji’s sadhana is the hope it gave and continues to give. Yoga as taught by him emphasised on correct alignment and is seen as rigid and harsh by some. But at the core of it is compassion. The language of the heart. 

Guruji was not a man, he was a phenomenon. Same with Swami Chinmayananda who made the great scriptures accessible to the modern day seeker.

Offering my humblest pranaams to Guruji and Swamiji who guide my path.

Hari Om

Study and practice

Classes have been exhilarating this week with little, unexpected improvements in asana. I’ve always struggled with the balance poses and it was a surprise to be able to get into a steady veerbhadrasana 3 and uthita Padangushtasana. It happened while I was not looking and because of my teacher. I didn’t expect to even touch the pose when she first demonstrated it. How do I keep everything straight and hold the big toe? I’d be hopping on one foot! The systematic way of leading to the pose made it possible to reach the asana. But the real beauty lies in the integrity required to reach there. Something I learnt early on is to focus on how to work rather than aim to reach a pose. The asana happens by itself. One of the things I love about the system is the correlation between different families of asanas. Supta padangushtasana and veerbhadrasana 3 are twins! 

There is a renewed curiosity and playfulness about asana as I go about my chores. Sometimes there is a spontaneous veerbhadrasana 3 just to see if it still happens. And it does! Doing dishes is tadasana time for the legs while folding clothes is an easy time for virasana. I’m still reluctant to do baddakonasana or upavishtakonasana although I need that more. 

Today’s reading was just one line and its commentary from Gaudapāda’s Kārikā. 

आत्मसत्यानुबोधेन न सङ्कल्पयते यदा ।

अमनस्तां तदा याति ग्राह्याभावे तदग्रहम् ।।३२।।

When the mind does not bring forth any more of these imaginations because of the knowledge of Truth, which is Ātman (pure Consciousness), then it ceases to be mind and that (mind) becomes free from the idea if cognition for want of objects of cognition.

Swami Chinmayananda puts it very simply by telling it is sufficient for us to understand that the mind is nothing other than the ‘focal point’ of the five organs of knowledge. 

It echoed a recent question from prashnayantra for me. Thank you Michael for pointing out this fascinating resource. Although it is way beyond my current level of practice, I believe the questions will simmer somewhere in the background and prompt a deeper enquiry when I am ready. A seed sown that will sprout in the readiness of time. In the meanwhile, I endeavour with all my shortcomings and flaws to the best of my ability.

Hari Om