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.

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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.

Paschimottanasana Study

The prashnayantra prompt today suggested paschimottanasana and that became my exploration for practice. It’s been a mildly restless few days of the head and heart and the pose seemed just right to bring calm and energy. So, it progressed to be a meditation on the mat for the next hour or so. Thanks to youtube, I listened to Geetaji’s instructions as well as Guruji’s and it was a much quieter pose than usual. Less tug of war between the body and mind. As a practice session, I was looking at learning and so, it was about finding actions that happened automatically and how to bring restraint in them. Many repeats. Some propping with a rope and belt. And staying for a little more than usual.

Later, I looked up the pose in Light on Yoga and Yoga – A Gem for Women as also some notes I had saved to refresh my memory. The physical benefits were to do with resting the heart and improving blood supply to the organs in the abdominal and pelvic regions. It is said to bring vitality and a balanced outlook towards sex. The asana also goes by the names Brahmacharyasana and Ugrasana, connoting self-restraint and power. I find that names of asanas are a good way to carry forward contemplating their qualities beyond the mat.

Guruji says, “A good stay in this pose massages the heart, the spinal column and the abdominal organs which feel refreshed and the mind is rested.” It is interesting how this pose covers the triad of emotional, intellectual and digestive aspects of the body which are responsible for good health and vigour and as a result confers a rested mind and refreshed body.

Geetaji’s book recalls the Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1.29, “Paschimottanasana is the foremost of all asanas. Its effect is that the life force flows through the very intricate channels called nadis, gastric fire is kindled and the stomach becomes free of all diseases.”

She goes on to say that the effect of this asana on the mind is magical: an upset, irritated, and restless mind becomes tranquil, and angry, passionate moods etc. are calmed down. It sharpens memory and brings clarity of thought. The latter qualities are essential for studentship and found resonance with my morning reading* which explored the qualities of a student – self-control in outward life and calmness in inner living.

During the course of the day, I watched a short film on a prolific Indian photographer, Raghu Rai. His pictures are incredibly evocative and have the same quality of stillness and dynamism of Guruji’s poses. The overriding sense I got was his pictures were really a drawing in of his lens into himself before releasing it. A complete presence. In the photographer’s words, ‘dekhna is darshana’ (to see is to have darshan) and I saw yoga in his living craft. I suppose when one brings that spirit of enquiry to one’s subject of study, there is also a certain prolificacy.

The day has come to an end and I find that I wasn’t restless today and my mind was calm. Overall, there was a very quiet sense of detachment in its hours, a lightness of being.

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Paschimottanasana WIP

*Taittiriya Upanishad Ch 1, Section 4

Food & play

Iyengar yoga is known for its alignment, precision, long holds in asana. The second class was one of play as we moved repeatedly, waking up sleepy muscles of body and mind. It doesn’t happen often in class since the Institute follows a syllabus and it is geared towards systematically developing a practice for oneself. But, as our teacher said, “and sometimes you should play like children also“, as we moved back and forth in pawanmuktasana and did reps of halasana, paschimottanasana. It leaves a different taste after such a practice, lighter.

As my other teacher mentioned during our introduction, class is like a thaali (a multi course Indian meal), where many dishes are served till the point of bursting. There is no time to savour the rasa individually like we do with food prepared at home. It is a home practice which allows us to taste the flavours in each asana.

Back to lessons from the universe, coincidentally one of my readings was

भूरिति वै प्राण:। भुव इत्यपान:।सुवरिति व्यान:।

मह इत्यन्नम्। अन्नेन वाव सर्वे प्राणा महीयन्ते।।५।।

Bhuh is prana. Bhuvah is apana. Suvah is vyana. Mahah is food. Indeed, it is by food that the pranas thrive. (Translation by Swami Chinmayananda)

It is interesting to see and experience the role of food in our lives. The Annamaya kosha is the outermost sheath and nourished by food. What is food, though? There is a lot of ‘information’ available out there but the ‘knowledge’ about is pretty scarce. Much of it has faded from our lives alongwith the older generation. Ayurveda has it’s food rules and at one time, it was common knowledge as people turned to their kitchens for preventive and curative medicine. Food was prepared as an offering before being consumed. The traditional prepping methods released the benefits in a way that was most suitable. There was no complication of a ‘diet’. People ate what was native to their region, in season and prepared in the way of their ancestors. There was an order in which it was consumed for the best absorption and assimilation. Food was meant to nourish and sustain and it was in sync with the prakriti of a person. At the end of the day, it was a subjective exercise, like yoga. 

The general rules provides a framework but the magic is in self exploration. It’s an ongoing experience as I discover much about my misconceptions with food and begin to see my place in the circle of life, like in the movie, The Lion King.

It never fails to amaze me how astute the sages were. They codified everything as it is while we complicate matters with analysis and research. As Paul Coelho says in The Alchemist, it is the Language of the World. Or as Patanjali states, ‘Words, objects and ideas are superimposed, creating confusion; by samyama, one gains knowledge of the language of all beings.’ (Translation by BKS Iyengar)

In gratitude